Director/Screenplay – John Adams & Toby Poser, Co-Director – Zelda Adams, Producer – Toby Poser, Photography – John Adams & Zelda Adams, Music – John Adams, Visual Effects/Makeup Effects – Trey Lindsay. Production Company – Wonder Wheel Productions.
Toby Poser (Ivy Allen), John Adams (Kurt Miller), Zelda Adams (Echo Allen), Shawn Wilson (Dell), Joan Poser (Mr Minskey), Inderpreet Singh Khangura (Ben at The Mobil), Bob Lane (Detective Jay Sanford), Izzy Figueredo (Detective Esther Davide)
Winter in rural New York state. Kurt Miller is driving home from the bar when he hits neighbouring fourteen year-old Echo Allen who is sledding in the dark. Kurt drags the body back to the abandoned house he is renovating and then strangles Echo when she returns to life. He buries the body in the woods but it resurfaces and so he cuts it up and dumps it in the well. He is subsequently haunted by Echo’s ghost, taunting him and urging him to confess. Meanwhile, Echo’s mother Ivy searches everywhere for her. She is also a tarot reader and tries to interpret what the cards are saying to find Echo’s whereabouts. In the course of her door-to-door search, Ivy meets and befriends Kurt.
The Deeper You Dig announces that it is an ‘Adams Family Production’. This is literally the case – it is a film made by husband and wife John Adams and Toby Poser and their fourteen-year-old daughter Zelda who operate together under the banner of Wonder Wheel Productions. (There is also an older daughter Lulu who has contributed to their other films but on this occasion was away at college). The three play all the principal roles in front of and behind the camera. John and Toby share director and writer credits, while Zelda is credited as co-director. Toby acts as producer, John composes the score and John and Zelda operated the camera. Toby even brings in her mother Joan (who died shortly after the film’s release) to play the elderly woman who comes in for a tarot reading. The film was shot around the Adams’ own home in the Catskills.
In the early 2010s, the Adams Family were getting nowhere. Toby had had some minor acting credits in tv episodes and a couple of films. In 2011, John had been playing in a punk band but had lost a gig working on a tv show. The family pitted the resources they had together and decided to make their own film. This came about with Rumblestrips (2013) and they followed with the likes of Knuckle Jack (2014), The Shoot (2014) and Halfway to Zen (2016), all of which are non-genre dramas. All of these follow the same method and are family affairs both behind and in front of the camera with them playing all the major roles.
As is the case with the rest of the Adams’s films, The Deeper You Dig is shot as a digital production fairly much with the resources they have to hand. The bulk of it takes place between the two houses in New York state – the frozen wintry landscape and the locale of a house in a state of half-repair becomes such a central element to the film visually as to almost be another character in the story.
The photography and direction favour a naturalistic look. The film is a slow, character building drama about guilt, avoidance, loss and in the end about an unexpected friendship. The Adams’s even appear to have done their research on tarot – the credits offer thanks to someone for sharing their knowledge of it – and avoid the cliches of most genre films where about the only card that is ever produced is the Death card with ominous effect (it is here too but it is stressed that it does not necessarily mean that literally).
The film is often striking in its visuals – of Toby Poser conducting a seance with mother Joan at a table against an entirely black background where the starkness of the effect is amusingly undercut by Toby’s shammery and the old lady’s awareness of such. Or of Toby’s vision after opening the box where she is seated at a table in a white void as a top-hatted figure with their face masked by a wrapped cloth appears and seems to feed an eel down her throat; another seance where she is seated across from a clown figure. In particular, the appearance of the dead daughter (Zelda Adams) taunting John to confess and that he needs to bury her deeper come with a sardonic amusement, contrasted with often grisly scenes of him cutting the body up. The most striking of the visions is the one with Toby sitting in the woods where the ghost of the dead daughter hangs twenty feet up in the air behind her.