Overview: After her brother dies in a tragic accident, Jacqueline (Jake) Mather considers a Faustian deal to get him back. Area 23a; 2014; Not Rated; 85 minutes.
That’s Just Like, Your Opinion, Man: Somebody needs to check on Ted Levine. I think he’s slowly transforming into Jeff Bridges. He spends the entirety of Hunter Adams’s Dig Two Graves growling into his beard, muttering like he’s got a chunk of chaw in his cheeks. His character, Sheriff Waterhouse, wiles away the last years of his career serving as the sheriff of a small town out in yonder woods by puttering about the local jailhouse and teaching his grandchildren how to hunt. In these scenes, he channels Bridges’s Marcus Hamilton from David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water (2016), right down to the caustic, off-handedly offensive banter with his officers (“You done sucking my d***, deputy?”). In the latter, he’s a dead ringer for Bridges’s gruff and grumbly Rooster Cogburn. And yet, for such a derivative character, Levine’s performance is the emotional center of Adams’s flawed, occasionally incoherent misfire.
Well, She IS a Teenager: The tragedy is that for most of Dig Two Graves, Sheriff Waterhouse is ancillary to the main action, a tortuously contrived and hammy horror story centering around his granddaughter Jake Mather (Samantha Isler). After a freak accident where her brother Sean (Ben Schneider) drowns in a flooded gorge, Jake is approached by a trio of ne’er-do-wells who offer to bring her brother back to life in exchange for the life of another. The three are led by the mysterious Wyeth (Troy Ruptash), a fellow I’m sure was intended to be intimidating but actually comes off as quite hilarious. This is partly because he tries and fails to pull off the triple fashion threat of a stove pipe hat, a Civil War Union Army overcoat, and plaid flannel. But it’s also because he delivers his campy, pulpy lines completely straight. Jake, being young and dumb and guilt-ridden—she was indirectly responsible for Sean’s death—agrees to sacrifice Willie Proctor (Gabriel Cain), one of her classmates. Of course, after she’s inducted into their group via a Satanic ritual involving blood sacrifices, she wises up fast. And, being young and dumb and guilt-ridden, she runs away, doesn’t tell anyone, and refuses to aid a police investigation trying to imprison these literal demon-worshipers with real magical powers.
Temporally Confounded: Adams doesn’t help his film any by alternating between two time periods with few, if any, noticeable transitions. Turns out Sheriff Waterhouse has a secret that’s haunted him for decades, a secret involving the former town sheriff, a disagreeable old cuss named Proctor (Danny Goldring). Seems all these years later, karma has finally caught up with them—it’s no coincidence that Wyeth asks for Proctor’s grandson Willie as payment for resurrecting Jake’s brother. The only two things differentiating scenes set in the present and scenes set years earlier are Waterhouse and Proctor’s facial hair and a preference for yellow-orange interior lighting in the flashbacks. Frustratingly, both Levine and Goldring look and sound similar, at least in medium and long shots, leading to occasional confusion as to who’s who during the scenes immediately after the film transitions from present to past.
Grandpa to the Rescue: But in between these tortured plot points are several meetings between Jake and grandpa Waterhouse. As movie grandfathers are wont to do, he expounds on life and love and all the mushy stuff Jake is just now getting old enough to truly appreciate. The highlight of the film comes when he shows Jake a worn-out home movie of his wife from the 1940s and tells her the story of how it became a big hit with Allied soldiers serving in Europe during World War II. It’s the stuff of Lifetime original movies, but Levine’s sincerity sells it much more powerfully than any of the scenes meant to inspire dread or fear.
Overall: Dig Two Graves simply isn’t a good film. But I don’t think Adams is a bad filmmaker; his handling of Levine’s scenes prove that. I think he’s just missed his calling. He seems much more suited for zeroing in on emotional back-country pathos than focusing on the things that go bump in the night. I hope his future projects are more along then lines of Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone (2010) than Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes (1977).
Featured Image: Area 23a