Soft For Digging (2001)

Starring Edmond Mercier, Sarah Ingerson, Andrew Hewitt

Directed by J. T. Petty

Here’s a challenge out to today’s modern horror filmmakers, indie and otherwise: Make a movie, about 80 or so minutes in length, with precisely three scenes of dialogue, a very very slow pace, and only one main character. Then, once you have that put all together, make it something people will actually want to sit through.

J. T. Petty has done it successfully, for himself and the audience, and my hat is off to him. I will admit from the get-go that Soft for Digging is not for everyone. A lot of people upon seeing it will most likely say it’s “boring” or “too slow”, but that’s just because most of us aren’t used to films that do what they want, as opposed to what Joe Moviegoer wants. I hesitate to call it slow, actually, because slow has a lot of negative conotations…deliberate is a better word. Petty is unfolding the story the only way he thinks it can be done, and if you get a chance to check it out, you will agree.

Soft for Digging is the story of an old man named Virgil who lives by himself in the woods of Maryland. One day he goes out to find his cat (something you can tell he’s very used to doing) and sees a man, a girl, and dead dog trudging off to the woods together. He follows them out to the woods, more of out curiosity than anything morbid, and is witness to the murder of the little girl. Since he never gets a good look at the murderer, he’s not too much help to the police, who do their best to find the girl (including organizing the town to go out and search the woods), but no body is found.

Soon Virgil is racked with all sorts of increasingly bizarre dreams that he concludes are somehow going to lead him to the murderer. What he discovers, however, is something far more twisted than anything he could have conceived, and is forever changed by it.

On odd compliment, but valid: Petty does a great job with his placement of sounds. For the first 10 or so minutes, pretty much until the death of the little girl, the only things we hear are the old man’s kettle, a squeaky toy used to entice the cat, and the sounds of Maryland outdoors. While normally this would set some on edge, expecting something horrible to happen at any moment, after you’ve been sucked in, it becomes part of the storytelling. When there are scenes of dialogue between characters, they’re seen from the vantage point of a good distance away or inside the house, so the feeling that we are following this man around, spying on him, is very strong after a while. A very original approach I have to say, and it works wonderfully.

But the end…my God even if you hate the entire movie, the last 10 minutes will make it worth your time. The ending really got me in a big way because I wasn’t expecting it at all…you really can’t. No matter how intuitive you can be about movies, I think Petty did a great job of not giving any clues away as to how the film would end. Gotta respect a filmmaker that can pull that off, especially with today’s crowds.

So will you ever get to see it? I honestly have no idea. The film’s been made for a few years now, and nothing’s been said about any kind of distribution that I’ve heard of. It’s played a festival or two, just enough to get the name out there and generate some interest for Petty (who’s latest film is Mimic 3, and I really hope that’s not a waste of his talent), but overall it’s been given a cold shoulder. I hope that Mimic 3 does well enough to see this movie released on DVD because more indie filmmakers need to see stuff like this to realize it’s not all about quick cuts, gory kills, or zombies. You can still have a very effective horror film and use no dialogue, a very deliberate pace, static camera shots if you know what you’re doing. And J.T.Petty sure as hell does.

4 out of 5

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