Soon after teenager Jake loses her brother in a tragic accident, she encounters a sinister trio of woodland moonshiners who claim they can bring him back, but at a high price. The choices she makes will test the limits of what she is willing to do to have her brother returned to her, and reignite an old feud festering at the heart of the secluded town.
Dig Two Graves refers to a Confucian proverb, stating the preparation that one should make before pursuing revenge, suggesting that the undertaking will in one way or another destroy its pursuer. It takes a while to reveal exactly how such a reference in any way relates to the plot, but as the story unfolds across two points in time – the ‘present’ of 1977 and the instigating circumstances of thirty years previously – it becomes apparent that it’s unlikely to end in anything but heartbreak as a cycle of vengeance mercilessly plays out through younger generations.
Appropriately for a story combining magical realism with gothic tragedy, the insulated community evokes a purgatorial emptiness to match its lonely isolation. Although the sun often shines bright in the sky, its warmth never reaches the earth, the harsh light instead sapping life from the wintry desolation and leaving the woods a faded imitation of nature’s vitality. It feels like a place lost in time and adrift from reality, simultaneously existing in the real world while also unshackled from its rules. It’s never explicitly stated that anything supernatural is actually occurring, but the creeping otherworldliness of the bleak surroundings creates a self-contained dominion where backwoods magic and makeshift rituals could conceivably operate alongside everyday small town life.
In the main role, the 13-year-old Samantha Isler delivers a truly revelatory performance. Jake has reached the point where the innocence of youth begins to gradually make way for the responsibility of adulthood, and her moral dilemma is one that her young age excuses her serious contemplation of, but her emotional growth requires she also accept accountability for its repercussions. Her resilience in the face of emotional hardships and unfriendly locals in an isolated rural community evokes Jennifer Lawrence’s breakout role in Winter’s Bone, while she exudes a maturity well beyond her tender years that calls to mind Natalie Portman in Léon or more recently Dafne Keen in Logan. Similarly, Ted Levine playing a rare leading character as the town sheriff and Jake’s grandfather, is as interesting as he’s been in years. A grizzled old warrior with a soul worn by the weight of his regrets, he is now further burdened with the consequences of his decisions long ago that have come back to threaten his family.
Dig Two Graves is a sinister yet serene tale whose every moment warrants your full attention. It burns slow but strong, and while the story ultimately reveals itself to be a relatively straightforward one, the mesmerising icy precision with which it develops, along with a spellbinding performance from its young lead, leaves you almost afraid to blink lest you miss a moment.
DIG TWO GRAVES / CERT: TBA / DIRECTOR: HUNTER ADAMS / SCREENPLAY: HUNTER ADAMS , JEREMY PHILLIPS / STARRING: SAMANTHA ISLER, TED LEVINE, TROY RUPTASH, DANNY GOLDRING, BRADLEY GRANT SMITH / RELEASE DATE: UK RELEASE TBA