In the opening stretches of The Deeper You Dig, young Zelda Adams makes such an impression in the role of blue-haired, sulky-but-devoted goth mid-teen Echo Allan – who is being raised by her single mother Ivy (Toby Poser), once a genuine spiritualist but now a Tarot-reading huckster – that it’s a genuine shock when the character is killed off, sideswiped at night by drunk driver Kurt (John Adams), who is renovating a dilapidated old house just up the road from Ivy’s home. Of course, being dead doesn’t mean Echo – or even Zelda Adams – is out of the picture, and her significantly-named character permeates the film (her odd taste in music – rinky-dink 1920s tunes like ‘Ain’t We Got Fun?’ – resonates from a vintage wireless set in Kurt’s house, driving him deeper into insanity). This is an unusually intimate family effort – John Adams and Toby Poser write and direct the film, with their daughter Zelda Adams billed as assistant director and co-cinematographer (with her father), while Poser also produces and John Adams also scores and edits.
In the tight little story, few incidental characters get much more of a look-in … as Kurt has to keep going back to work harder at getting rid of the corpse (it’s winter and the ground is too frozen to dig deeply) while being pestered by an apparition that might be more than a guilty conscience … while Ivy persistently investigates, homing in on the obvious guilty party (with whom, creepily but logically, she strikes a few possibly romantic sparks), and reigniting her psychic abilities to communicate with the beyond. Though dead, even Echo is an active character – haunting her murderer, reaching out to her mother, and refusing to stay buried or disposed of, edging towards an unsettling, maybe happy ending. Set in chilly Pennsylvania woods, this has a stark look, and its emotional knots are tightened by obvious economic desperation – Kurt wouldn’t be drinking if his one-many money-making project, to renovate and flip the old house, were going any better … and Echo wouldn’t be dragging her sledge out alone late at night if her mother weren’t squeezing a few extra dollars out of a mark at a tarot reading. It has a certain ricketiness which undercuts the suspense situations but makes for unpredictable, unusually affecting forest magic.