Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.
There’s a lot of wisdom in that short proverb. From Melville’s Captain Ahab to Star Trek’s Khan, we see time and time again that missions of vengeance almost always end tragically for those embarking on them. But you don’t have to read a dictionary-sized novel or travel to the 23rd century to see this for yourself. Madness, passion, obsession and a hint of the supernatural make Dig Two Graves a bit more unique than some other stories about getting even. Leaping between 1947 and 1977, it’s a multi-generational tale of murder, betrayal and revenge that’s quite a bit different from anything you’ve ever seen.
The film starts in the late ’40s as the corrupt Sheriff Proctor and his sole deputy, Waterhouse, are driving down a narrow, overgrown stretch of dirt road leading up to an abandoned rock quarry. In the bed of the truck are two bodies wrapped in bedsheets and covered in blood. Parking by the ledge overlooking the water-filled quarry, they unceremoniously toss both corpses into the murky, blue depths. It’s the culmination of an escalating series of illegal, immoral and outright evil deeds committed by Sheriff Proctor, whose deputy has tried, and failed, to keep under control.
Flash forward to 1977, where Sheriff Waterhouse’s grandchildren, Sean and Jacqueline (Jake to everyone who knows her), are enjoying their summer biking, hiking and exploring the small town they call home. Coming to a familiar precipice overlooking the deep blue waters of the quarry, Sean takes a dive and disappears into the murky stillness. Jake, too frightened to follow, watches as the ripples recede into stillness, before running off into town for help. As a search fails to uncover the teen’s body (or any other’s drifting below), the family hold’s a corpse-free funeral and moves on with their lives. Everyone but Jake. Obsessing over the loss of her brother, as well as her guilt for not jumping with him, she comes across a trio of Gypsy brothers living in a shack on the outskirts of town.
Wyeth, Jon and Dee are magicians of a kind, convincing Jake with parlor tricks and the grim, occult trappings of their home that they can bring Sean back from the dead. The deal is simple enough: a life for a life. Wyeth convinces Jake that the only way to retrieve her brother from the clutches of his watery grave is to sacrifice her friend, Willie Proctor. As the story continues to unravel, we learn that Wyeth and company are the children of two Gypsies who lived in the same shack in 1947. Their mother was raped and beaten by Sheriff Proctor (Willie’s grandfather), until their father beat him senseless. Proctor returned to settle the score, dragging Waterhouse along with him. As his deputy pleads with him to be reasonable and end his assault, the wife makes a poor attempt to rescue her husband, firing a shotgun at Waterhouse, who instinctively shoots and kills her. Taking this as his chance, Proctor murders the husband and attempts to do the same to the boys who have witnessed the entire incident, until Waterhouse stops him.
Returning to 1977, we have a final showdown, first between Proctor and Waterhouse inside the shack where both men shoot and mortally wound one another before Wyeth and his brothers return. Wyeth confesses to Waterhouse that his plan for revenge never involved killing the men, but making them suffer, using their grandchildren as an instrument of torment against them. What he doesn’t know is that, prior to the gun battle between the two aging cops, the moonshine being brewed in the shack had been splashed on the walls, floors and furniture, turning the entire house into a tinder box. Cuffing himself to Wyeth, Waterhouse lights a cigar, enjoys one final puff, and tosses the smoldering stogie into the floor, setting a blaze that engulfs them all. As for Jake and Willie, the heartbroken girl can’t bring herself to take an innocent life and, remembering that all the “spell” required was a human sacrifice, throws herself into the quarry.
The movie is much more beautiful and suspenseful than I’ve been able to capture in a few hackneyed paragraphs and covers a range of emotions and topics beyond the revenge-story narrative at core. Grief, loss and survivor’s guilt, to name a few, are explored in Waterhouse, Jake, Wyeth and even Proctor, who all have found different mechanisms to cope with their tragedies. Listed as a horror film, the movie is so much more. Yes, there’s a supernatural element to Dig Two Graves, but it’s one that leaves you wondering if anything outside of the ordinary was real or the result of a stress-induced mania. From the provocative dancing of the snake woman, to the ghostly way that Wyeth appears and disappears makes you wonder if there was black magic at work the whole time or if it was all in your head. Nothing is as it seems as the story continues to leap in brilliantly edited flashbacks between ’77 and ’47.
Written and directed by Hunter Adams, the movie was shot in 2014 and was originally released that same year at the New Orleans Film Festival. It was only this past March that Dig Two Graves met with a wider release on Netflix and other streaming services. Starring Ted Levine — better known as Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs — as Sheriff Waterhouse, it has to be one of the better films I’ve come across online this year. Levine makes this movie for me. His character, a veteran of the Second World War, suffering from night terrors and issues that would now be recognized as PTSD, is a man as gruff and ready to bring violence, as he is a loving father and grandfather who leads his family with a great compassion. I’ve known men like this in my life, veterans like my father, who served in combat and was a cop for over 30 years, as well. Levine wasn’t an actor playing a part in this story. The character he portrayed was as tangible and real as anyone I’ve ever met and my heart broke for him and his granddaughter Jake (played by the equally talented Samantha Isler), as I watched their story unfold.
If you’re looking for revenge, you’d better dig two graves. If you’re looking for a suspenseful drama about revenge and redemption, you’d better watch Dig Two Graves.