Filmed in the bog fields outside Ballymena in Northern Ireland, The Dig begins as a very precise, detailed drama that captivatingly offers up the spirit of the earthy, dark and sodden world its represents, both literally and figuratively. However, it also loses focus after an opening hour of hard looks, brutal truths and gritty happenings, in both a narrative and character sense. However, overall I think the pros outweigh the cons.
Focusing in on Ronan Callahan (Moe Dunford), returning to his home town after serving 15 years in prison for murdering his girlfriend, he breaks into his own old house to find the girl’s Father Sean (Lorcan Cranitch) and his other daughter Roberta (Emily Taaffe) digging up his fields… searching for the body of the girl that was never found. Whilst Ronan had her skin under his fingernails, he was also black-out drunk and so never recalled what happened on that tragic night, or where she was buried.
The persevering darkness that dominates proceedings is a vastly commendable world built by directing duo Andy Tohill and Ryan Tohill, along with writer Stuart Drennan, and they’ve pretty much created a unique cultural alternative to the dusty, sun-scarred Western of a classic American tale that lingers throughout underneath. Beaten down souls and fights in the mud are the order of the day and The Dig never holds back when taking us in the deep soul of the country they represent.
In the early scenes, every specific movement, sound and intention from Ronan is seemingly purposeful. From pushing an old, wooden door open to smashing bottles of spirits in the sink, trying to fix his plumbing and even his long-term plan to sell the property, it’s clear he’s a tough character with a goal in mind now he’s returned. The Tohill’s and Cinematographer Angus Mitchell help this with a unique, desolate setting that’s somehow also an outstandingly beautiful and mysterious Irish landscape backing up the unfamiliar,
While all these moments build up a thought-provoking story beneath, it does take a dip of attention in the middle third, where you feel something is coming but instead it shifts in tone and you begin to feel you know where this is going. With a small ensemble of characters, you feel there’s surely something hidden below the surface and that lingering thought doesn’t really go away and, a little disappointingly, ends up closer to old-style stereotypes that probably could have been avoided.
However, when they get it right, you learn so much from knowing nothing and just watching the characters tells you who they are, and that’s a mark of good visual representation in every sense. Over explanation is rarely intelligent and The Dig respects its audience enough to give it snippets of the wider story but not an excess early on, which is something that would have been welcomed later to.
That being said, I have no doubt on everything created here nor strong performances from the key three in the shape of Cranitch, Dunford and Taaffe, who are all exceptional. The commitment to these heavy, intense characters with deep, murky backstories buried deep in the bog really make it a piece of film-making that does stand out, right up to an even bleaker, yet emotional, finale.