For the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival, I had the opportunity to review the supernatural thriller THE DEEPER YOU DIG from directors John Adams (Halfway to Zen) and Toby Poser (Rumblestrips). The film, which is a beautiful mix of art-house and horror, as well as dreams and hallucinations, is a study on how grief and guilt affect a mother, daughter, and a strange neighbor. The film stars John Adams, Toby Poser, Zelda Adams (The Hatred), and Izzy Figueredo.
To best describe the overall film, I’ll turn to IMDB: “Ivy (Toby Poser) and Echo (Zelda Adams) are not your typical mother-daughter team. Ivy, once an intuitive psychic, makes an easy buck as a bogus tarot card reader; 14-year-old Echo likes old-timey music, hunting, and black lipstick. When reclusive Kurt (John Adams) moves down the road to restore an abandoned farmhouse, an accident leads to Echo’s murder, and suddenly three lives collide in mysterious and wicked ways. Kurt assumes he can hide his secret under the ground. But Echo burrows into his head until he can feel her in his bones. As she haunts his every move, trying to reach her mother from beyond, Ivy must dig deep to see the signs and prove that love won’t stay buried.”
I absolutely adored this movie. Going in, I had no idea what to expect, but I knew I wanted to watch after seeing the general director of Fantasia, Mitch Davis, raving about it. The topic of grief and loss is one that I’m always drawn too, maybe it’s because I’ve experienced both too many times to count, but there’s definitely a connection between grief and horror that captivates me. In THE DEEPER YOU DIG, we see a mother who has experienced the worst that the world can offer – the loss of her child. After Echo disappears one night while sledding, Ivy does whatever it takes to find out the truth behind her daughter’s disappearance and perceived death. Meanwhile, Kurt is dealing with the consequences of his actions which just propel him to dig himself deeper and deeper into a hole of guilt and rage instead of owning up to what he’s done. Both Ivy and Kurt dance around each other, coming into contact multiple times as the pressure cooker of what Kurt is holding onto begins to bubble rapidly to the surface.
All things considered, this film is a quiet one. It doesn’t rely on intense action scenes or non-stop jumpscares, instead allowing the emotions from all three key players to be used as a catalyst to draw the audience in. The acting is absolutely superb and there’s a genuine sense of realism as the characters interact with each other. This could be because this film is a family affair, as John Adams and Toby Poser are in fact married in real life and their daughter, Zelda, also stars in the film as Echo. I think because of this, it allowed the characters to really convey emotional responses to the unfolding narrative because it was one that hit close to home. Along with the fantastic performances, the style of the film is breathtaking. Shot in the Catskill Mountains during the Fall/Winter season, there’s an icy feel to the overall visuals and tone. This is made even more impressive when you learn that Zelda, along with her father, was actually responsible for the cinematography. Whether it be the skeletal forest that surrounds the desolate home that Ivy and Kurt reside in, or the dark shadowing and artistic visuals during the more supernatural moments, it’s an impressive feat for both the Adams’ to have accomplished.
My only real critique of the film had to do with some of the visual effects, but luckily they were few and far between. Outside of those few moments, this film is a bold achievement in bare-bones filmmaking that I think a lot of people could learn from. It’s a reminder that all our sins won’t stay buried forever, no matter how hard we try to push them deep beneath the surface. As far as movies that center around a haunting go, this one is top-notch and one of my favorite “haunted house” style films of the year. It pulled on my heartstrings and left me unsettled in a similar way to the first time I watched Nicolas Pesce, The Eyes of My Mother. Fans of art-house films that like there to be an emotional upheaval mixed in with their horror would do well to seek out this film when it eventually gets a wide release.