A girl’s obsession with her brother’s disappearance leads her on a nightmarish journey through a small town’s Gothic landscape where she is faced with a deadly proposition. How far will she go to save the people she loves?
Making a big impression at the 16th Annual Nevermore Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina in 2105, Dig Two Graves is exquisite and captivating, a haunting and darkly beautiful tale of grief, sorrow and regret. And revenge, hence the film’s title and the proverb from which it is derived: “When you embark on a journey of revenge…dig two graves.” Dig Two Graves is reminiscent in tone and flavor to that of Winter’s Bone (2010) from its coming of age motif to its star making turn from young Samantha Isler as Jake Mather. Writer-director Hunter Adams brings the the atmosphere and local color of mid-Seventies rural America to life as Jake struggles with the loss of her brother with only her grandfather, Sheriff Waterhouse, to look to for understanding and acceptance. Adams paints a dark thriller that splendidly unfolds with each discovery and tragic turn. Ushering the film along is Ted Levine as the patriarch of the family and the leader of the quiet small town, his performance is nuanced and layered leaving the audience hanging on each gruff syllable. Dig Two Graves is bitter sweet, haunting and richly rewarding, a must see.
The story behind Dig Two Graves begins with a flashback that establishes Sheriff Waterhouse before it skips ahead from the 50’s to the 70’s where his grandchildren, Jake and Sean, suffer tragedy when Sean drowns. Jake is devastated unable to save her brother. Consumed with grief, she relies on her grandfather for comfort and compassion to get by. When she encounters a trio of moon-shiners who promise they can return her lost brother if she can fulfill a deadly exchange, a life for a life. A deal with the devil. To Jake’s horror, they target a young boy who has a crush on her and is the closest thing to a friend she may have. As she struggles with the temptation and morality of the proposition, the history behind her grandfather and the moonshiners begins to come to light.
To horror fans, Ted Levine is forever associated with Jame Gumb, Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs. While Levine brings his signature deep, base voice and the authority that goes along with it, he also displays a complicated soft side to Sheriff Waterhouse that makes this role one of his finest, perhaps strongest. Levine is captivating in Dig Two Graves grabbing the audience by throat starring into their eyes telling his story through a squinted, pained expression somewhere between anger and exhaustion. His character is knowledge with an acute understanding of everything about the story being told and each character trespassing through the tale. Yet, he is unable to do terribly much about it. He is unable to protect his family from the horrors of his own past. His face is wrinkled with regret and desperation, his voice graveled with history and secrets.
The star of the film, however, is Samantha Isler who embodies perfectly the unfurling tale of struggle, remorse and strife. Her face saddened beyond her years, Isler’s Jake braves the decisions that will shape her life, define her character. It is a coming of age story worthy of classic literature examining morality, family and bonds that go beyond life and death. Somehow Isler embodies all that and more. Hers is an intense and fascinating journey. In a key scene where Jake first encounters the moonshiners entering a tunnel on a remote path home, Isler provides her character with a delicate mixture of courage and vulnerability that causes the audience to stand and take notice. Bravo. She later displays the conflict in her decision to either sacrifice her friend to return her brother or set him free losing Sean forever, she wears that weight in her stance, her gaze, her every word and each quiet gasp. Samantha Isler is extraordinary in Dig Two Graves.
If nothing else Dig Two Graves is a beautiful film, the cinematography is splendid. The film is rich with muted tones and deep silhouettes that expertly match the tone of the story and secrets it holds. The landscapes are bleak and dreary much like the decisions young Jake faces. The world around Jake threatens to swallow her whole. The film exceeds its own expectations in two key scenes with the camera work alone. One is where characters take a plunge into the icy cold waters, dreamlike and consuming. The other is bright with fire and blood, nightmarish and equally consuming.
Director Hunter Adams makes a strong first impression with Dig Two Graves weaving heart and horror into the film blending innocence and danger. He brings characters to life that are layered and real exposing their struggles and processes. His story of Jake and her grandfather has its audience fully invested in their plight, their conflicts and their outcome. While never scary as a horror film can be, Dig Two Graves still has its audience on the edge of its seat anticipating a single decision where life hangs literally in the balance. Will she? Won’t she? He also never slights any of the characters, not even the antagonists, the trio of moonshiners. He essays their story with as much attention and affection as Sheriff Waterhouse. Hunter Adams is a talent and Dig Two Graves is likely only a hint of what is to come.
Dig Two Graves is an undiscovered gem, a small masterpiece that should not be missed. It is a film that explores family, morality, loss, grief and tragedy with respect and loving care. What will someone do to protect their family? What will they do to avenge it? What happens when those ideals collide? The cost is innocence. Ted Levine is extraordinary, one of his finest performances. Samantha Isler impressive as she brings Jake to life. The film is layered in its story and its conflict. It has a somber but handsome tone to it, gorgeous in its complexity. Dig Two Graves strikes at the heart, at youth and family in a fashion that can only be recommended.
4.5 out of 5