There is a palpable love that radiates deep within The Adams’ latest film, and it is not just because the production is a family affair. A story reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, the marital duo Toby Poser and John Adams direct, write, produce, and star in The Deeper You Dig–a film at Fantastic Fest 2019 that explores grief, guilt, and determination within the fragile boundaries of life and death.
Poser stars as Ivy, a mother who lives in the snowy Catskill Mountains working as a fortune teller conning grieving widows. Her daughter Echo (Zelda Adams) is an artistic fourteen year old who has an affinity for old-timey music, hunting, and dark shades of lipstick. Echo meets her fate one tragic night when she is accidentally run over by a neighbor named Kurt (John Adams). Driven by her motherly instincts and a natural gift for the craft she had been seemingly fabricating all along, Ivy seeks to lift the veil between the living and the dead in order to find out what happened to her beloved daughter.
Adams successfully conceals Kurt’s intentions by allowing the character to spiral into an obscure state of madness. There is a delicately deceptive harmony in his actions that makes the audience question whether or not Kurt has killed before or if this is a one-time occurrence. Sure, he knows to buy the right supplies to bury a dead body, but he can only dig a grave so deep– an insult Echo taunts him with as Kurt descends into a state of psychosis. Unfortunately, there is no backstory given to Kurt and therefore, his character is taken at face value. Kurt’s lack of identity and consistency coupled with the ending’s anagnorisis keeps the depth of his character at a distance. As a result, the film’s capacity for dread and tension is limited. However, the chemistry between Adams and Poser is a perfect cocktail of suspicion, distance, and intrigue. You would not guess these two are married in real life, which makes their dynamic all the more uncomfortable in the most wonderful way.
The thematic elements that accompany Echo’s disappearance are intriguing and well-executed. As Kurt attempts to bury her body in the woods, Echo’s presence (as her name suggests) still resonates throughout the house he is fixing up and eventually seeps into the far corners of his mind. The way this is done visually is mostly through practical effects. The small moments that do utilize CGI are done in a way that is not distracting to the point where you are taken out of the story. Everything about the haunting nature of this film feels and looks strong.
Utilizing Ivy’s occupation as a Tarot reader gives insight into the realm of the afterlife while also adding a humanistic layer to Echo since the audience knows little about her before she is killed. The closer Kurt and Ivy become, so does Echo’s impact on Kurt’s psyche and physical body. There’s a clear physical, mental, and emotional invasiveness that prevails throughout the entire film in a smooth and discreet manner. Kurt begins to strangely mirror Echo’s tastes by ordering the kind of cinnamon coffee she likes and randomly begins saying phrases that Ivy finds oddly familiar. All of these choices reflect the all-encompassing nature of grief and guilt; the way trauma can torment (or guide) an individual down a path to either destruction or salvation.
The production itself is nothing short of a marvel. Poser and Adams shot at their home nestled in the Catskill Mountains. John Adams delivers a blood-curdling electronic score that is both animalistic and phantasmal, complete with sounds reminiscent of pulsating heartbeats. John and Zelda Adams team up to tackle the cinematography which mirrors the crisp and cold nature of the winter season, as well as the perpetual struggles faced by the film’s characters. The father/daughter duo even take turns as camera operators. Special effects artist Trey Lindsey creates a wicked aesthetic with chilling practical effects makeup. Lindsey has a distinct eye for gore and decay while walking a tightrope of realistic and nightmarish imagery. The family team at the helm of the film has clearly mastered how to create an atmospheric, engaging horror film on a tight budget. They know where to allocate their funds and where to cut corners in order to execute a film that looks like it was made well beyond their financial means or with a larger team behind the camera. Furthermore, Adams and Poser pen a script that is simplistic, and yet just deep enough to probe more philosophical topics surrounding life and death.
The Deeper You Dig is a psychologically distressing portrayal of love and loss. There are two spectrums of dedication present in the narrative: one of death and one of life. Ivy is determined to find her daughter no matter what realm she has to penetrate; Echo is determined to let her mother know what happened to her; And Kurt is determined to control death at all costs. An exemplary work of low-budget filmmaking, The Deeper You Dig is an eldritch and well-crafted film that is far from shallow.
/Film Rating: 7 out of 10
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