I’d been intrigued by this one since I saw the moody, black-and-white-looking trailer back in 2019, and I think what I expected was what I got: a sombre, semi-surreal drama with horror elements, albeit severely restricted by budget limitations (though not to poor effect).
It’s apt that The Deeper You Dig is about family because, behind the scenes, it appears to be a truly family affair: written by wife-and-husband team Toby Poser and John Adams, and co-directed with their daughter Zelda Adams, the three also co-star as a mother-daughter household and a stranger who lives down the road. The photography, sound editing, score and pretty much everything other than visual effects.
The story concerns Echo (Zelda Adams) who lives with her tarot reader mother Ivy (Poser). Events unfold that include the actions of a neighbour/stranger Kurt (John Adams), with the supernatural playing a part (though no spoilers).
The film is more eerie than scary, more drama than thriller, and the film’s no-budget only very slightly hampers its pacing: there are several long shots that need trimming, and characters wander into master/static shots rather than having the camera create tighter action/movement. But the photography of the rural NY scenery is beautifully bleak and disquieting, and trick angles and cuts belie the SFX limitations.
Impressive, too, are the performances: the younger Adams is a little stilted in parts as Echo, but does well to make a surly goth teen seem like a sweet kid; Poser has a truly compelling screen presence as Ivy; it’s only the elder Adams who feels out of place, his laid-back delivery seeming to be for an indie romcom rather than a preternatural crime drama. Perhaps, with his other duties, he was stretched too thin.
As far as the storytelling goes, it does meander, but that’s to be expected for this flavour of subgenre, though it did feel like it was circling the same plot beats at times to fill space. The film’s climax felt a bit forced, with an awkwardly choreographed, too-slow fight scene and a final scene that would be better-placed in a short film. But the grim, strange tone holds throughout enough to be consistent and I felt that, overall, most of it worked. Perhaps not one for those who want more straightforward fare but worth checking out if you fancy something off the beaten path.