June 5, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by John Adams and Toby Poser
Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed rural U.S. city, the horror flick “The Deeper You Dig” has a racially diverse cast (white, African American, Asian and Latino) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: A man who tries to cover up a hit-and-run accident finds himself haunted by guilt and other forces.
Culture Audience: “The Deeper You Dig” will appeal primarily to people who like slightly offbeat horror movies.
“The Deeper You Dig” is a weird, hallucinogenic type of horror movie that will turn off viewers who want to see a more conventional thriller, or it will intrigue people looking for something other than an average ghost story. The movie is also unusual because filmmakers John Adams and Toby Poser not only wrote and directed the film, but they also star in the movie with their daughter Zelda Adams.
Although “The Deeper You Dig” should be commended in trying not to be a formulaic film, the results are mixed. This low-budget movie definitely accomplishes having a creepy and unnerving atmosphere, but some of the film’s pacing is a little too slow and elements of the story are at times very repetitive.
In “The Deeper You Dig,” which takes places in an unnamed U.S. rural area where it snows heavily, Kurt Allen (played by John Adams) is a loner who’s been fixing up a dilapidated and very messy house. Viewers find out later in the story that he plans to flip the house—in other words, renovate it and sell it at a profit. Kurt doesn’t say much for most of the movie, and his main activities outside of the house are going to the nearest convenience store and eating by himself at a local restaurant. He keeps to himself and hasn’t met any of his neighbors.
Meanwhile, Kurt’s neighbors—single mother Ivy Allen (played by Toby Poser) and her 14-year-old daughter Echo Allen (played by Zelda Adams)—have the kind of relationship where they’re more like close friends than mother and daughter. Echo seems to be a free spirit who doesn’t like that a schoolteacher has told Echo that she can no longer wear blue lipstick when she’s at school.
When Ivy picks Echo up from school, Ivy tells Echo about her plan to visit someone named Mrs. Minskey later. Echo asks, “Is she trying to talk to her dead husband?” Ivy replies, “Yeah, but I’m going to shake her out of a little more money before she gets to talk to him.”
“That’s cunt-y,” Echo says. “I like it.” Ivy responds, “Thank you. It’s called business.” Echo says, “Noted.” It turns out that Ivy makes money as a psychic who reads tarot cards, and Mrs. Minskey (played by Joan Poser) is one of her customers.
Later in the movie, a client session with Ivy and Mrs. Minskey demonstrates that Ivy knows how to put on quite a show as a psychic, since she dresses in a black cowl and spews a lot of mystical mumbo jumbo when she reads tarot cards. And it’s obvious to viewers that she will tell Mrs. Minskey enough of what she wants to hear for the right price. However, talking to the dead husband seems to be the “carrot stick” that Ivy uses to get more money from this gullible widow.
A snowstorm is about to hit the area, so Echo decides to do some snowsledding before the weather gets dangerous. Meanwhile, Kurt makes a stop at the convenience store, where a radio newscast playing in the store reports that the area will be experiencing subzero temperatures. He then has dinner at a nearly empty restaurant.
As Kurt is driving back home on this snowy night on a deserted road, he sees a few deer crossing the road and slows down to let them pass. But then, as Kurt continues driving, he hears a loud thump as he accidentally hits something in the road. He gets out and is horrified to see that the car has hit a teenage girl. Kurt doesn’t know it at the time, but that girl is Echo.
In a panic, Kurt goes to a nearby wooded area and to bury the body. But the ground is too frozen for him to dig a large-enough hole. He then takes the body to his house, where he puts Echo in his bathtub while he tries to figure out what to do next. Kurt is shocked when she suddenly wakes up and finds herself in a stranger’s bathtub. And then, Kurt quickly makes an even more heinous decision to murder Echo, by smothering her to death.
It’s not a spoiler to reveal that Kurt is responsible for Echo’s death, since that information is already in the trailer for “The Deeper You Dig,” which makes it clear that the movie is about Kurt being haunted by the ghost of Echo. What’s revealed later in the movie is if Ivy ever finds out what happened to Echo and if Kurt is punished for his crimes.
There are several scenes of Kurt nervously trying to cover up for his crimes, as he plays almost a cat-and-mouse game with an increasingly suspicious Ivy and police detectives Jay Sanford (played by Bob Lane) and Esther Davide (played by Izzy Figueredo), who are investigating Echo’s disappearance. He tells anyone who asks that he’s never seen Echo before the news of her disappearance.
Kurt starts to see visions of Echo haunting and taunting him at various times of the day and night. Meanwhile, Ivy is also sensing that Echo is trying to contact her psychically, because she hears Echo’s voice whispering to her.
These ghostly scenes are not as unsettling as the scenes of Ivy turning to the occult to get some answers. It’s revealed later in the story that Ivy has a past with a former protégé named Dell (played by Shawn Wilson), whom Ivy asks for help when she becomes desperate to find out what happened to Echo.
The decisions that Ivy makes in the film will keep viewers guessing on how much she might be hallucinating and what she might do if she finds out that Kurt killed Echo. Will she turn him into the police or will she take the law into her own hands?
“The Deeper You Dig” is not for the faint of heart, since there is enough bloody gore to make sensitive viewers very queasy. (In one scene, someone vomits up blood filled with maggots.) The screenplay has elements inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” so horror fans won’t be impressed by some of the more derivative aspects of the film.
What’s more impactful for “The Deeper You Dig” is the cinematography by John Adams and Zelda Adams—as well as John Adams’ music, film editing sound design—which all give the movie a panic-inducing feel of someone on a bad psychedelic trip, which seems to be the filmmakers’ intent. And it works well for the quirkiness of this horror story.
Where the movie falls a little flat is with some of the acting from John Adams, but maybe that’s because Kurt has no backstory and doesn’t have much of a personality. And a few of the scenes have slow pacing that drags down the movie. However, the supernatural freak-outs that Ivy experiences to try to solve the mystery of what happened to Echo make “The Deeper You Dig” one of the more uniquely disturbing horror movies of the year, for better or worse.
Dark Sky Films released “The Deeper You Dig” on digital and VOD on June 5, 2020.