The Deeper You Dig is the fourth film by The Adams Family (collectively John Adams, Toby Poser and daughter Zelda Adams), and an uneven but undeniably effective meditation on themes of grief, revenge and redemption. Part horror, part supernatural family drama. It’s a bit of a mess, but an enjoyable one nonetheless!
Reminiscent of The Lovely Bones, Ivy and her teenage daughter Echo (Toby Poser and Zelda Adams) are professional mediums who scam gullible old ladies, yet still believe in some form of spiritualism. When Echo is accidentally killed by neighbour Kurt (John Adams) her mother tries to piece together what happened by trying to contact Echo on the other side. Meanwhile Kurt deals with his guilt, along with the possibility that from beyond the grave, Echo isn’t finished with him.
The central performances from the Adams family themselves are all solid, even if the supporting cast are quite wooden. The bond between Ivy and Echo is immediately apparent, and they have a genuine chemistry which must be at least in part due to their real-life relationship. Poser is especially convincing in the scenes following Echo’s disappearance which are incredibly raw and moving. Adams also makes an indelible impression in her relatively brief screen time, which is essential for later plot developments to ring true.
The main problem is in the inconsistent characterisation. Ultimately it doesn’t quite dig deep enough, barely really scratching the surface of what makes the characters tick – one minute Ivy is skeptical, the next she’s a fervent believer in the afterlife. Kurt is especially underdeveloped – he is never presented as outright villainous, in that the hit and run is accidental, but we see him murder Echo in cold blood when he sees she is still alive, and hacks her up. It’s difficult to empathise with him after this, but the script still expects you to for some reason, which amounts to a conflicted and muddled tone in the final confrontation.
The film is peppered with smart and eerie editing choices. The most shocking moments are achieved nicely judged in-camera tricks, such as the bottomless box that Ivy peers into, which seems to pull back endlessly, or the moment where she suddenly wakes from a dream, represented by her bursting out from a lake, gasping for air. These moments are subtle and really effective, but are too often accompanied by an unconvincing special effect that diminishes the impact.
The directors take full advantage of the snowy setting with some striking cinematography, and with dark silhouettes contrasted against the landscape. There are shades of Don’t Look Now here, most notably in the depiction of a telepath who doesn’t quite believe, and the death of a child hanging over proceedings. Some of the visuals feel like they are striving towards the hypnosis sequences from Get Out, but aren’t as effective.
There are lots of little touches here that I appreciated, especially in the scenes that hint at Echo beginning to possess Kurt. The script incorporates turns of phrase used by Echo into Kurt’s dialogue and the set design in his shack – where “I AM KURT” is written in big letters is not directly commented on but has an eerie, Memento type feel to it and pays off brilliantly in the film’s nasty climax.
At its worst though, this resembles a student film David Lynch-knock off which isn’t great. The moments where characters laugh maniacally for no discernible reason and feel awkward, and when it aims to be surreal it misses the mark, feeling heavy handed and self-consciously stylised, which is a shame given the subtlety on display in other areas.
The Deeper You Dig may be tonally uneven but it’s full of character and features some really well executed shocks. It’s obviously made on a budget, but the Adams family are clearly no amateurs, and the film provides plenty of nice moments and a script that can be confounding but is mostly refreshingly original.