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Film Review: Dead Hands Dig Deep (2016)

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SYNOPSIS:

While living in complete isolation in the desert of southern California, a long forgotten shock-rock musician reflects on his dark past of drug abuse, violence, and self destruction.

REVIEW:

If you’ve ever had to remind yourself that what you’re watching is just a movie in order to stomach a violent scene or disturbing imagery – don’t watch this film; it won’t give you this comfort. Everything in this movie is a part of our reality and once you see it and acknowledge this fact, there is no going back. Dead Hands Dig Deep is a documentary that hits hard and leaves a mark.

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Australian filmmaker Jai Love takes to Temecula (California) where we meet Edwin Borsheim, a former frontman of a metal band Kettle Cadaver, his friends and family. We learn about his past and get to see how his life looks like in the present day. Sounds like a description of almost every single rockumentary ever made, right? Sure it does. But it’s also a description of the most extreme and unnverving movie I’ve ever seen.

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Edwin Borsheim was famous for his on-stage antics. And by antics I mean things that’d make G.G. Allin cringe uncomfortably. We get to see some footage from Kettle Cadaver live shows: there’s Edwin wrapping a barbed wire around his head, piercing his skin with safety pins, sewing his mouth shut with a staple gun and nailing his scrotum to a piece of wood. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Now that Kettle Cadaver disbanded, Edwin lives a reclusive life in his house on the outskirts of Temecula.

The very first thing we see him doing? Looking straight into the camera and talking about how he daydreams about murdering random people, opening fire upon cars at an intersection and taking as many lives as he possibly can.

It is made clear by his family, his friends and Borsheim himself that whatever he did on-stage was something much more than an act.

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Jai Love did a very good job with showing the life of Borsheim from different angles. The are interviews with his estranged mother and brother that shed some light on Edwin’s troubled past and possible causes of his present mental state are the most important part. They help the viewer feel some compassion to the man who spends most of the movie rambling about his hatred towards humanity in general. The interviews with fellow musicians made me respect Borsheim’s dedication to the scene – he built a venue all by himself, he used to organize backyard wrestling events, concerts and parties for the scene kids – as a punk rocker I was truly impressed by what he did for Temecula’s alternative youth.

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What Love could’ve done better is interviewing Borsheim himself in a more organized way. Of course, it’s important to see Edwin at his worst – talking to himself, suffering mental breakdowns, hearing voices and so on – but the best moments of this film, where I really felt that I’m actually getting to learn something about this man, were the ones where the young filmmaker had more control and Edwin was just answering the questions or reminiscing. Borsheim turns out to be a great, entertaining and intelligent storyteller if asked the right questions. Too bad his powerful persona takes over so often.

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From the technical point of view Dead Hands Dig Deep is top-notch. Audio-visual quality of this movie is very high, even the archival footage, despite being recorded in the nineties, holds up to modern standards, and the music Love uses to illustrate his film is appropriately haunting and subtle at the same time.

Dead Hands Dig Deep is, indeed, extreme. With its 100% unsimulated acts of violence (…one including a dead coyote) and lots of talking about death, suicide and murder, many people will find it simply too hard to stomach. Personally, I like movies that invade my comfort zone, I like when they make me think and when they are ambiguous, non-judgemental and free from moralizing. Jai Love may be unexperienced, but he is an extremely talented director and I’m looking forward to seeing his future works.

One comment

  1. ….and last night Edwin hung himself. the guy was legend to those who knew and nothing to those who didnt. Im cusrious to watch this for a glimpse of a guy who made an impact in my life as a young punker coming up in suburbia known as Temecula. Dude was a star, an undiscovered one, but none the less he radiated to those who were around him.

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