You have not experienced existential despair until you’ve lived through an upstate New York winter. This truth is at the heart of The Deeper You Dig, a Fantasia 2019 premiere of a fantastic micro-budget film set in the Catskill Mountains, where hallucination, communication with the dead, and drunk driving along snowy roads are just par for the course.
The Deeper You Dig is written, directed by, and starring a family of three: John Adams, Toby Poser, and their daughter Zelda Adams. John Adams is Kurt, a handyman renovating a long-abandoned home in the Catskill Mountains, who spends most of his off-time getting drunk at the local dive and avoiding coming into his contact with anyone else. His closest neighbors are Ivy (Poser), a medium who has lost her faith, and her daughter Echo (Zelda Adams), a goth teenager dreaming of killing her seventh buck when hunting season starts. On the night of a snow storm, a semi-drunk Kurt runs Zelda over with his truck while she’s sledding in the dark. Desperate and terrified, Kurt conceals Echo’s body and denies any knowledge of her, initiating a terrifying and sometimes humorous sequence of events as Ivy begins her search for her missing daughter, in both this world and the next.
It’s a recognizable story, and so some of the beats in terms of Kurt’s decaying grasp on reality are fairly predictable. At first. But The Deeper You Dig makes fantastic use of its setting and the sparseness of its plot as it bends and warps its narrative, taking side turns into the hallucinatory and surrealistic as Ivy delves deeper in the next world to find her daughter and bring her killer to justice. Gorgeously photographed, the film evades many of the clichés it might have slipped into, and even passes by some of the easier solutions that a more commercial, and less successful, film would have used. The Deeper You Dig provides just enough explanation for its events to keep things coherent, but then leaves them alone, allowing the images to build the narrative rather than depending upon extensive exposition for its drama. There is violence, and blood, and one or two jump scares, but there are used sparingly, heightening the impact when they come.
The Catskills are a character unto themselves, the deep cold of winter giving way to the rain-drenched greyness of February and March. The mountains shape the characters and their experiences: Kurt tries to bury Echo’s body in frozen ground, Ivy searches for answers to her daughter’s disappearance in the skeletal forests that slowly transform into miasmic greenery. There is a palpable sense of the damp, the frigid, the closeness and invasiveness of nature in every frame. As Kurt restores the house, filling in its decaying frame, the lines between his reality and the haunting nature of his crime are filled in as well.
Thematically and visually, The Deeper You Dig is reminiscent of another indie horror set in the greyness of upstate New York: The Blackcoat’s Daughter, which gained a cult following after its release and is still one of the best horror films of recent years. The Deeper You Dig deserves a place right alongside it, pulling elements of the occult into a narrative about grief and coming to terms with death. This isa small film that deeply deserves an audience, as accomplished and thematically vibrant as any big budget horror you can find today, and far more conversant with the thin divide between spirituality and the supernatural than most. If you can find it, see it.
The Deeper You Dig is now showing at Fantasia 2019.
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