A murky stew of sin, vengeance and expiation boils up and over in “Dig Two Graves,” a flawed but gripping horror-thriller, handsomely wrought on a slim budget by filmmaker Hunter Adams. Add to the recipe a dash of demonic intervention to expose what evil lurks in the hearts of men.
Teenage Jacqueline “Jake” Mather (Samantha Isler) lives in a densely wooded corner of the rural Midwest, circa 1977, where she faces a terrible choice: Three strangers with dark powers offer her a chance to bring her dead brother back to life. The trade-off? Jake must cause the demise of her only friend, Willie Proctor (Gabriel Cain).
In a prologue, set 30 years earlier, a sheriff and his deputy dispose of two bodies in a water-filled quarry. Back in the film’s present, old Sheriff Waterhouse (the dependably gruff Ted Levine) can’t stop flashing back to that 1947 atrocity. Jake is Waterhouse’s beloved granddaughter, still grieving over her brother, who jumped into that same quarry and drowned. Because she was holding his hand before he jumped, but hung back at the last second, she’s now racked with guilt.
Guilt, as it happens, fuels every plot point in the film. Director Adams (who wrote the script with Jeremy Phillips) had an overarching vision for “Dig Two Graves,” and he has stuck to it. The story takes improbably lurid turns and sometimes tangles its thread. Yet at every twist, it is saved by the moral weight of the tale, the gorgeous, haunted vistas in Eric Maddison’s cinematography and the solidly credible, equally haunted acting. Adams’s artful interweaving of past and present illuminates what kind of sin demands such terrible wages.
Unrated. At AMC Hoffman Center 22 and available on demand. Contains partial nudity, coarse language and violence, including a rape scene and images of the gutting of an animal carcass. Not for the snake-phobic. 85 minutes.