PLOT: After a young girl's brother is killed in a tragic accident, a mysterious stranger makes her an offer: if she causes the death of a classmate, her brother will be brought back to life.
REVIEW: An independent film directed by Hunter Adams from a screenplay he wrote with Jeremy Phillips, DIG TWO GRAVES was filmed back in 2013, and while I don't know the story behind its four year journey to distribution, I can understand why this movie would take a while to make it out into the world. It's not a question of quality - the film is well made and looks wonderful, with Adams and cinematographer Eric Maddison bringing some impressive visuals to the screen. It's the fact that it's so unique. There's nothing out on the market today that I could really compare it to, so I would understand if someone were to question how it could be sold. But as a viewer, I found the film's uniqueness to be a great benefit.
Adams came up with the story idea after his own mother passed away and he began to wonder how far he would go to bring her back. That deeply personal connection to the concept comes through in the film, which is set in 1977 and centers on a young girl named Jake (Samantha Isler) whose brother Sean (Ben Schneider) dies in a tragic accident when he jumps off a cliff at a water-filled quarry. His body isn't recovered from the water, and likely never will be. Losing a brother is painful enough, but there's also a reason for Jake to have guilt mixed in with her grief: Sean jumped off that cliff because she was supposed to be jumping with him. She chickened out, and might have saved her own life by doing so.
Soon after Sean's death, Jake is approached by a trio of very strange guys led by the intensely creepy Wyeth (Troy Ruptash). These guys seem to know everything about the girl and what she has lost, and they also claim that death isn't as permanent as she might think. Wyeth can bring Sean back to life, all that's required is that someone take his place. He even suggests the replacement - Willie Proctor (Gabriel Cain), a bullied classmate of Jake's who has a crush on her. All she has to do is push Willie off that quarry cliff and Sean will come back.
Jake and Wyeth make a handshake deal that brings up all sorts of questions. Who are these guys? Can Wyeth really resurrect the dead? Why does he want Willie dead? Our protagonist wouldn't really kill an innocent kid, would she? And if she breaks the deal, what are the consequences?
Adding to the intrigue is the presence of the great Ted Levine as Jake's grandfather, the local sheriff. The sheriff has history with that quarry; thirty years earlier he and the former sheriff (Danny Goldring) tossed some bodies off that cliff. While Jake's story plays out, we also get flashbacks to 1947 that fill us in on the criminal activities of the law enforcement officers and reveal how the past ties in with what's going on in the present.
DIG TWO GRAVES was quite different from anything else I've watched recently, and I was grateful to be seeing something that was a bit outside of the norm while still being rooted in a real, relatable world - in this case, picturesque small town Illinois. I was captivated and emotionally engaged throughout, and while some of the film's answers were easy to predict, Adams frequently found a way to put a twist on things and take them in a direction you might not expect.
A great deal of the film's overall effectiveness can be attributed to the incredible performances delivered by Isler and Levine in the lead roles. The cast does well across the board, but the movie is truly carried by those two actors, and they both do some stunning work here. Levine has had several great roles over the years, and I would rank this film's Sheriff Waterhouse among his best.
We know Levine is awesome, but it's clear that Isler is going to go on to do some great things, too. She's not the only one who shows promise, as this film also indicates that Hunter Adams is a filmmaker to keep an eye on. DIG TWO GRAVES is a great achievement for a low budget indie, and I'm left wanting to see more of what Adams can do.