One of the characters explains the phrase “Dig Two Graves” in this stylish and haunting thriller, and I’ll not spoil it for you other than to say what a pleasure it is when even something as simple as a three-word title has real meaning.
If you appreciate dark, original and chilling gothic horror stories with a supernatural twist, if you like low-low-budget indies that somehow manage to look and feel like big-time major motion pictures, you gotta check out “Dig Two Graves.”
Set mostly in the late 1970s — with some pivotal events taking place in the 1940s — “Dig Two Graves” is a disturbingly effective tale of one young girl’s obsession with rectifying the loss of her brother in a suspicious drowning accident.
She’s seeking more than answers, more than even revenge. She wants to fix it. She wants to bring him back.
In one of the few light and sunny scenes in the film — at least it starts that way — Jacqueline “Jake” Mather (Samantha Isler) and her brother Sean (Ben Schneider) are poised to dive from the edge of a quarry to the waters below. At the last second, Jake gets scared and lets go of Sean’s hand, Sean jumps — and he’s never seen again.
Writer-director Hunter Adams gives “Dig Two Graves” a distinctly Stephen King feel, using a variety of Southern Illinois locations so effectively, the backdrop becomes almost a character unto itself. The production values are A-level through and through, from the choice of locales to the lighting to the cinematography to the small touches of set design expertly conveying the era, whether it’s the 1940s or the 1970s.
About those flashbacks. Ted Levine (“The Silence of the Lambs” and dozens of TV and film roles since then) gives one of the most memorable performances of his career as Jake’s grandfather, Sheriff Waterhouse, who is still dealing with a shady and unspeakably strange episode from 30 years prior. Suffice to say there’s a decades-long connection between the Waterhouse family and a band of local gypsies that tell Jake they can bring back her brother — but she’ll have to offer up another life in exchange.
“Dig Two Graves” makes some pretty nifty transitions from the 1940s to the 1970s, including one seemingly unbroken shot. Every trip to the past reveals something about the “present-day” journey involving Jake’s attempts to avenge and perhaps undo the death of her brother.
Young Samantha Isler and crusty old Ted Levine have stellar chemistry together. (Sidebar: How can Levine be only 59? Maybe that lotion in the basket kept him young.) Levine of course can play evil as well as anyone, but in Sheriff Waterhouse, he has a richly developed character: a hard-drinking man with haunting memories who nevertheless has a genuine and deep love for his granddaughter. It’s great work in a nearly great film.
Area 23a presents a film written and directed by Hunter Adams. No MPAA rating. Running time: 85 minutes. Opens Friday at AMC River East and on iTunes.