By ROCCO THOMPSON
Starring: John Adams, Toby Poser, Zelda Adams
Directed by John Adams, Toby Poser
Written by John Adams, Toby Poser
If you don’t already wish your family was as cool as the Adamses, that’s just because you don’t know who they are yet. Upon hitting forty, actress Toby Poser found that roles were starting to dry up, so she decided to embark on a new project with her husband John and then preteen children Zelda and Lulu. They purchased a camera and some microphones before hitting the highway to produce Rumblestrips (2013), a road movie in which the foursome play fictionalized versions of themselves. Since then, the family has produced five films under the banner of Wonder Wheel Productions, with each member sharing acting, directing, writing, and shooting duties as necessity and artistic urge demand. Their most recent feature and first true-blue horror effort, THE DEEPER YOU DIG (2019) brought the Adams family (minus Lulu, who was away at college during filming) a new level of recognition when it played last year at FrightFest, Fantasia, and Fantastic Fest, and this upward trajectory for the filmmaking clan continues apace with Arrow’s excellent new physical disc release.
Poser stars as Ivy, a single mother and once-gifted medium who has lost her shine and now spends her days fleecing widows desperate to contact their deceased husbands. One fateful night, her fourteen-year-old daughter, Echo (Zelda Adams) goes sledding against Ivy’s wishes, and is killed by Kurt (John Adams), a troubled neighbor who wastes his days rehabbing a nearby house. Though Kurt tries to hide what he did, Echo’s spirit refuses to rest, and, as Ivy’s clairvoyance begins to resurface, it’s only a matter of time before she locates the man who snuffed out her daughter’s life.
Shooting in the woods surrounding their upstate New York homestead, THE DEEPER YOU DIG strikes the viewer hard and fast with its high contrast photography. In filtering the brutal winter of the Catskill Mountains through consumer-grade, high-resolution cameras, the Adams lean into the sharpness and coldness of the digital image, giving this very unique ghost story a hard-edged immediacy that serves it well. Landing someplace between Winter’s Bone, early Coen brothers, and Larry Fessenden’s Wendigo, the Adams family present their characters as earthy hunting folk engaged in a metaphysical struggle as inscrutable and unyielding as the land they inhabit. John, Toby, and Zelda each deserve credit for how visually stunning and inventive this thing is, which puts indies with ten times the budget and resources to shame.
The film is essentially a three-hander, but it definitely belongs to Poser, whose performance as the simultaneously flinty and empathic Ivy contains multitudes. With a shock of black ringlets shot through with fingers of grey, and a crunchy, earth mother vibe (which, judging by interviews, seems to be natural to her) Poser is a mesmerizing screen presence from moment one, but her soulful, at times silly, at times frightening performance showcases great skill.
Arrow Video brings THE DEEPER YOU DIG to Blu-ray in a High Definition (1080p) presentation with original lossless PCM 2.0 stereo soundtrack. As mentioned before, the film was shot on Canon 5D and 6D cameras, and the Adamses aren’t aiming for a film-like visual quality. As such, the detail of this transfer is, at times, almost overwhelming due to the film’s artificial sharpness, and the contrast between the blackness of New York’s forests and the nearly blown-out white of its snowbanks is eye–narrowingly stark. There are brief moments of banding and artifacting, and the overly digital flavor of the film may not be to every taste, but there’s no denying that this a typically stellar presentation from Arrow.
The selected special features here add a whole lot of value. Disc one offers an audio commentary with Poser and Adams and an in-depth interview from home with the filmmakers and their daughter, Zelda. These are enjoyable from both a filmmaking standpoint, and because the family feels like they’d be a joy to spend time with. Also included is a visual essay by Anton Bitel that explores the theme of Family in THE DEEPER YOU DIG and the Adams’ ouevre as well as the horror genre more broadly, a special effects breakdown with Trey Lindsay (who refers to himself as an honorary Adams family member), an interview with FrightFest TV from the 2019 festival, a theatrical trailer, image gallery, and a couple music videos from Hellbender, the family’s band. Really, what can’t they do?
As if that weren’t enough, a second disc features THE HATRED, the family’s 2016 Western as well as their first blush with horror themes and wintertime shooting. The discs come with a limited edition illustrated collector’s booklet with new writing by Neil Mitchell, a double-sided fold-out poster, and a reversible sleeve featuring two exclusive choices of artwork.
A haunting, micro-budget family affair that’s rich with subtext and meta-cinematic flavor, THE DEEPER YOU DIG is one of the best independent horror efforts of the past few years. Combining human drama with easy surrealism and supernatural terror, the Adams family’s formally-daring digital jewel is a welcome and essential addition to any collector’s library of Arrow Video titles.