Dig Two Graves ** ½ / *****
Directed by: Hunter Adams.
Written by: Hunter Adams & Jeremy Phillips.
Starring: Ted Levine (Sheriff Waterhouse), Samantha Isler (Jake Mather), Danny Goldring (Proctor), Troy Ruptash (Wyeth), Rachael Drummond (Mrs. Waterhouse), Dean Evans (Jon), Bradley Grant Smith (Deputy Byron Freeman), Gabriel Cain (Willie Proctor), Audrey Francis (Abigail Hathorne), Ryan Kitley (James Mather), Mark Lancaster (Dee), Mikush Lleshdedaj (Agimi Buchta).
The supernatural horror film Dig Two Graves is aiming for a Stephen King short story kind of feel to it. It takes place in small town America, where the sins of the past haunt the present, where on generation is still paying for what happened before they were born. It is well made by first time filmmaker Hunter Adams, who uses the rural setting to great effect, slowly building unease in the audience. The film ultimately suffers though for two reasons – the first being that we never really believe the main character – a girl of about 12 – will do what she has agreed to do, which saps the suspense out of things, and the second is that sooner or later, we know Adams and company will have to reveal the reasons behind everything, and those are often less interesting than the buildup – and here, that’s more true than most. A great Stephen King story sells the reveal, and makes you buy it, a good King story may leave you disappointed by the end, but appreciative of everything else. Unfortunately, this is a third kind – the kind that makes you role your eyes when the secrets come out.
The film opens in the 1940s – when we see a Sheriff and his deputy disposing of a couple of bodies in the water – and then the Deputy turning on the Sheriff, essentially telling him he’s no longer Sheriff anymore. Flash forward 30 years to the 1940s, and that Deputy is now Sheriff Waterhouse (Ted Levine), who has a daughter, and a couple of grandkids, but has never forgotten that night, and neither has the former Sheriff – Proctor (Danny Goldring), who has also stayed around their small town, and still hates Waterhouse. A tragic accident takes the the life of Waterhouse’s grandson – and accident that his granddaughter, Jake (Samantha Isler) feels not unreasonable guilt over. When she is approached by three strange men in the woods – and tells her that she can bring her beloved brother back from the dead if she wants – that all that needs to happen is that she get someone to take his place, and how about that young Proctor boy, she agrees. But of course, things aren’t quite that simple.
There are two things that make Dig Two Graves of interest. The first is that, no matter what his weaknesses as a screenwriter, as a director Hunter Adams has some skill. The ultra-low-budget film doesn’t for a second feel that way, as he makes great use of his locations, and never goes overboard with the supernatural elements, and builds tension legitimately – without resorting to “BOO” moments. I would gladly watch another movie by him tomorrow – even more gladly if he didn’t have a screenwriter credit on it. The other reason is to see Ted Levine’s performance as the Sheriff. Levine has been a fine character actor for decades – best known for his role as Jame Gumb in The Silence of the Lambs, Levine has shown up in a ton of movies and TV shows – and mainly gives an authoritative air to a few scenes, and then disappears again. Seeing him a role this big is a rare thing – but he makes the most of it. As much as I didn’t like the mechanics of the plot, he almost makes them work – making his Sheriff a man heavy with grief and regret – but willing to do anything to protect his family. It’s a fine performance from an actor who should get more credit.
Dig Two Graves isn’t a great movie – it’s not even all that good. But there are elements to it that work – and it’s good to see a young director like Adams work with a vet like Levine. Together, they almost make the film work. Too bad about the script.