Dig was directed by K. Asher Levin (Alexander IRL, Cougars Inc), written by Banipal and Benhur Ablakhad, and stars Thomas Jane (Murder at Yellowstone City, Vendetta), Harlow Jane (daughter of Thomas), Emile Hirsch (Son, The Immaculate Room), Liana Liberato (The Beach House, 1 Mile to You), and Ashleigh Domangue (Absolute Duo, How to Spell Revenge). It follows a father and daughter as they’re taken hostage and forced to excavate an abandoned house for something below.
The Plot: Both Ablakhads had a fantastic idea for a short film revolving around this same exact plot, able to make a strong start and acceptable finish, but most of what falls between these acts have no chance of matching up to what comes before and after.
Parents Scott (Jane) and Linda (Domangue) have been on a late-night journey to pick up their daughter Jane (the other Jane) from a party in the middle of nowhere. Stress continues to pile on as the trio gets closer to home, resulting in an encounter with a stranger that ends the life of Linda, leaving Jane nearly deaf, and Scott a mess. It may only count for about six minutes of Dig, but it’s a riveting start that continues to rev up to the point when the father meets Vic (Hirsch) and agrees to demolish an old house for him.
In an ill-advised move, Levin backs up 48 hours before the two men meet to clue in the audience as to why Vic wants this particular house stripped before moving back to the present. While this doesn’t work the way it should’ve, a reshuffling of this sequence would’ve fixed the issue. Scott and Jane get to work but soon discover that the house contains more than plaster and dust; once Vic and his girlfriend Lola (Liberato) show up and find this unwanted damage, the couple takes the family hostage.
Several ideas are run-of-the-mill. In fact, most of them are, but it’s the portions of Dig that seem to have little ideas at all that rupture the story and force it to coast on its conceit.
The Characters: Jumbling two completely different realities, Banipal and Benhur Ablakhad have verifiably human protagonists, but off-the-wall antagonists that are directly at odds with each other in the wrong ways.
Scott was and still is trying to be a good father. Although he had a short temper when his wife was alive, he never overreached or acted overprotectively towards either of his direct family. Now that the unit has been broken, he’s grown weary and continues to feel guilt for what happened to both females but hasn’t given up hope of fixing it, as he took the job in the first place to get closer to a cochlear implant for Jane instead of learning sign language. Love is clearly there, but he’s stubborn to a fault.
Jane is a relatively average rebellious daughter type, sneaking out to party with people beyond her age range despite protests from her parents. No ill will was meant when these things happened, but nowadays she’s resentful of her father to the nth degree. Both of these characters bicker like father and daughter – mostly over minutia – but there’s little for either of them to do here.
Conversely, Vic and Lola are overblown psychotics who do a similar amount of quibbling but lack the believability that Scott and Jane do. Vic is the voice of reason, though I use that phrase lightly given the situation. He listens to what Scott has to say about the scenario and how to handle it, and sometimes sees through light attempts at getting the crooks caught. Lola just exists here, yelling at Scott and brushing her gun on Jane to make her uncomfortable with every villain cliche one can think of.
Scott and Jane are fine reruns of the same old relationship parable, and Vic is an okay bad guy, but all of this is just a little too recognizable and poorly developed to sustain Dig. Thomas and Harlow Jane do well with what they’re given, as does Hirsch despite his miscasting, but the problems aren’t solved.
The Thrills: Because most of the suspense comes from a brief encounter before the title card even shows up, Dig struggles to sustain its intensity once the outlaw couple shows up. Moments of urgency appear, but they’re not inventive enough to feel truly exciting.
Being a parent is difficult, stressful, and time-consuming. Those effects are felt by Scott, who has to drive out to the middle of nowhere and carry his daughter on his back to make sure she didn’t get herself into any more trouble. Some dialogue confirms that this has happened before, and Scott has had enough of it, taking a hammer to threaten anyone who’d try and keep Jane there. Scolding ensues, but it extends past an appropriate setting, as a guy who cuts off Scott winds up in a similar spot, resulting in a moment of rage taken too far.
Finding cash behind the walls of the old house is the last moment that Dig has before it grinds to a halt, relying on the same escape attempts, monologues, and weaselling that has played out in hundreds of other thrillers. Levin doesn’t capture the introduction of Vic and Lola as villains with enough intensity, robbing the movie of a level of threat that it requires to make Scott’s capitulation believable. So little happens from this point to the end that the director tries to make makeup applications intimidating. It doesn’t work.
After the namesake activity finally starts to take place, Dig picks up again, though not for long. A property inspector comes to mark the lines which cause the hostage takers to panic, leaving Scott to manage the situation and hopefully keep the unsuspecting worker alive. Time constraints are present for Vic and Lola, making the excavation process accelerate enough to get the feature rolling again – making the conclusion play out with barely enough merit to warrant sitting through a mid-movie slog.
The Technics: Low budgets and crew restrictions put a damper on Levin’s feature in the same way 2020 and 2021 did to many other filmmakers. Accounting for that accrues a little bit of leeway but doesn’t excuse the design choices.
Pacing is truncated to a tiresome degree. While Dig only runs a mere 85 minutes sans credits, the inability on behalf of the writers to find meaningful ways to justify the length stifles the movie from hitting the nerves as it does towards the beginning and end. Whether this is also the fault of the distributor for wanting to meet a certain requirement, the director for being attached to the footage, or a poor editing job is anyone’s guess. Any of these combinations still results in an overlong picture, so it doesn’t matter I suppose.
Without much creativity on behalf of the filmmakers, there’s only so much that can be done to alleviate the dullness of the movie, so a colourful soundtrack with songs from different genres and time periods is included in hopes that the audio side will cover for the middling cinematography and washed-out look that never changes. Choices like this only raise a tonal imbalance and an eyebrow raised in confusion.
It starts and ends well, but 50 or so minutes of a 90-minute runtime are spent in static, rerunning tired tropes with little to add aside from some good work from Thomas and Harlow Jane.
Lionsgate has released Dig to Digital and VOD platforms. It comes to Blu-Ray and DVD on November 8th. And if you’re looking for more of the same, FilmTagger has some suggestions.