VOD Review: Dig Two Graves
Dig Two Graves is a suspense thriller without the suspense. While I was intrigued by the trailer, the actual experience was gravely unsatisfying.
Way back in the halcyon days of “maybe the Power Rangers movie won’t tank”, a trailer came out for the atmospheric horror movie Dig Two Graves. Hot on the heels of the first reveal trailer for the remake of Stephen King’s It, the trailer for Dig Two Graves scratched all the same itches. The cinematography did an excellent job of capturing small town, 1970’s Americana. The story of a young girl making a deal with the devil is King territory bar none. It even had a grizzled sheriff to fill out the trifecta. The trailer was everything I was looking for at that exact moment; two months later the movie finally hit Netflix. Something got lost in the interim.
Dig Two Graves (2014)
Jaqueline “Jake” Mather is a young girl living in a small town in the 1970’s. I’m assuming it’s Wisconsin. Only Wisconsin or Vermont would crown a “Miss Cheese Curd”, and there was nary a doobie or hackie-sack to be seen. We are introduced to young Jake as she chickens out during a quarry jump with her older brother Sean. Sean dies. Good instincts Jake! In the wake of her grief, a trio of gypsy moonshine peddlers make her an offer: push her classmate off a cliff, get her brother back.
Jake’s grandfather Sheriff Waterhouse (Ted Levine from Monk), has a history with the shiners though. A long history tracing it’s way back to the previous sheriff and some serious abuse of authority in the 40’s. The sins of the Grandfather are being visited upon Jake, and it is up to Sheriff Waterhouse to sort things out. There will be (snake) blood!
All Sizzle, No Steak
The cinematography is strong. Light and Shadow are used effectively. Unique camera angles and techniques are used often, but not inappropriately. This movie does a nice job setting up atmosphere. Both the time and place are recreated effectively, with strong costume design and camera work. Hunter Adams, the director and writer, is a Wisconsin native (nailed it!), so it makes sense. That this is a first-time indie picture that did the fancy pants film festival circuit long before hitting theaters also makes sense. Because this film is sophomoric as hell when it comes to the plot, and it really thinks a whole lot more of what it presents than you probably will.
“Suspense is worse than Disappointment”
I could not disagree with this quote from the poet Robert Burns more. The major failing of this movie is the disappointment you get when you realize there isn’t any suspense to be had here.
Dig Two Graves seems to eschew any kind of “twist”, and everything proceeds in a fairly straightforward manner. Flashbacks are given at the exact moment that the information they provide is needed. Transitions from one character’s actions to another accomplish the same task: give you what you need exactly when you need it. Perhaps Mr. Adams’ time in film school left him with a desire to be the anti-M. Knight Shyamalan: there will be no twist here. Those two concepts, a straightforward style and a taught, suspenseful thriller do not co-exist here.
While a good thriller doesn’t exactly need a twist, some kind of misdirection or uncertainty is a central tenet of satisfying suspense. If you know who exactly the killer is the minute he walks on screen, and nothing in the rest of the movie does anything to shake that certainty, your thriller fails. Here, I could pause this movie at any given point and ask what you think will happen next, and you’d almost certainly be correct. The only misdirection Dig Two Graves attempts is making you wonder if the brothers Grimy actually possess any occult powers. Unfortunately, this is absolutely superfluous to the movie. Everything proceeds perfectly fine if you go with the obvious assumption that they are just Scooby-Doo villains.
When I first watched the trailer for Dig Two Graves, I got the feeling of two Stephen King masterpieces: Needful Things, and It. Needful Things for the plot, It for the sense of time and place. I got the latter, but the former was a pale imitation. The Gypsy trio are no smooth talking Satan, and they convince Jake less by preying on her desire to have Sean back, and more by intimating that if she didn’t accept the deal she was about to wind up on a milk carton. Troy Ruptash plays the lead brother Wyeth, but his affectations are bargain bin Tom Hardy. He comes across as neither a silver tongued devil nor as a demon of vengeance. His mannerisms are as crude and obvious as his revenge scheme. The other two brothers are brain dead. They nail it.
I liked Ted Levine as the gruff detective in Monk, and expected his Sheriff Waterhouse to be the standout of the film. I was once again disappointed. He just couldn’t carry the emotion needed to sell either his remorse for his past or his bond with Jake. He had two settings: Drunk and Stoic. Actually, that might have been the same setting.
It occurred to me as Neil and I discussed the movie that maybe this wasn’t a King, but rather a Coen. If this film was indeed trying to be Fargo or No Country for Old Men, the character flaws stand out even more. For anyone not familiar, Minnesota Nice refers to the tendency for people in the Northern Midwest to be polite but bland. It takes a strong writer to make that banality interesting and a good director to pull winsome performances from the actors.
My big takeaway from this film is that Hunter Adams is not that man, yet. He seems to have an eye for the camera, but his plot treatment and ability to elicit strong performances from his cast are lacking. Maybe over time he will develop those skills. Until then, hire a writer, ya know?