THE DEEPER YOU DIG **** USA 2019 Dir: John Adams, Toby Poser. 95 mins
An opening credit for “An Adams Family Film” gets a wry smile at the start of this character-driven indie horror film written and directed by John Adams with his wife / leading lady Toby Poser – with Adams also credited with the score, editing and (along with teenage daughter / actress Zelda Adams) the cinematography.
All three impress in front of the camera. Zelda authentically portrays Echo, a sweary but loving 14 year old with black lipstick and an eclectic taste for music from generations ago. Her mom Ivy (Poser) was once a bonafide psychic and now makes cash from the vulnerable and the grieving via her tarot shtick. In their remote part of the U.S. in the dead of winter, Kurt (John Adams) is fixing up an old farmhouse and happens to be drunk-driving on a lonely road in a blizzard when he hits a sledding Echo. While Ivy searches, he is compelled to finish the “job” when she awakes back at his house – and spends the rest of the movie haunted by the restless, dead teenager as his house creaks and groans.
Zelda’s Echo is a witty, moving interpretation of the Corpse With Unfinished Business archetype in this distinctive modern take on the horrific morality plays of EC Comics. Returning from her callous dismemberment to mock her murderer and ask “What’s the deepest you can dig?”, she’s a persistent manifestation of unbearable guilt, getting inside his head from some other realm while communicating with her mother. Ivy’s own belief in “The Seven Circles” results in surrealistic visuals that bring disorientating splashes of colour to the film’s otherwise oppressively bleak, snowbound visual palette.
A disarmingly odd “friendship” develops between killer and victim, born of the (literally) grave mistake made by an otherwise seemingly ordinary man. Kurt’s growing vulnerability is confirmed by the invasive scenes of him on the toilet and in the shower, while the recurring shots from the perspective of his window seem to present the viewpoint of some higher power.
Not averse to the odd moment of playful absurdity, the Adams’ film mostly restrains physical horror while nailing the emotional beats (a mother just “knowing” her missing daughter is dead) and pondering over the big questions (what do animals know about life and death?). It’s wonderfully atmospheric, combining a subtle gallows humour with melancholia – and, if the bloody final confrontation appears inevitable, the conclusion is anything but ordinary.
Review by Steven West