Marion, Illinois a Real Find for
Growing up in rural Wisconsin, filmmaker Hunter Adams knows what makes small town living unique and how tight-knit communities behave. With that in mind, he knew Marion, Illinois was the perfect place to shoot his new thriller Dig Two Graves, which premieres on I-Tunes March 24th. “To tell you the truth, we came to Illinois for the tax incentives they offer to filmmakers,” the director said in a recent interview, “and we ended up finding something really special.”
Adams discovering Marion wasn’t immediate and came only after getting a tip from an old friend. “Eric Maddison (the film’s director of photography) and I went to Chicago, rented a car and spent a couple of weeks driving out to different areas of the state looking for the proper setting. We weren’t having much luck but then a friend of mine who went to Southern Illinois University told me about the Little Egypt area and said it was unlike any other place in the state. So we took the drive down there and he was right. There’s a natural beauty to that area and a sense of melancholy we thought would be perfect for the movie.”
Working on a relatively small budget ($625,000), Adams knew he would need a great deal of help from the citizens in Marion to complete this project. He wasn’t disappointed. “We couldn’t have made it without the townspeople in Marion,” he continued. “ They helped us find the old cars we needed and unique locations that we used, were willing extras in the movie. I can’t say enough good things about them.”
The location is used to great effect in this tale of two mysterious deaths – one in 1947, the other in 1977 – that has supernatural overtones to it. The area’s many distinctive rock formations are used to great effect, especially during a late night sequence that revolves around a cultish ritual involving snakes. Shadows and the pattern of licking flames flit across these stone background to create a genuinely eerie tone, as do some of the rural locations outside of Marion, which help create a distinct sense of isolation.
The mystery that unfolds and connects the two deaths at the film’s core involve a single family, particularly former Sheriff Waterhouse and his granddaughter Jake. These two characters are played by one very familiar face, Ted Levine (“Silence of the Lambs,” “Shutter Island”) and one that will hopefully become familiar very soon, Samantha Isler (“Captain Fantastic”). The chemistry between the two performers in the movie is obvious and they convey the sense that a familial bond exists between them. I asked Adams how much time the two spent together before filming began in order to get in tune so they could make this relationship seem real. His answer was a bit of a surprise.
“Actually, they met not that long before we started and the first day Samantha was on the set was a bit of a trial for her,” he recounts. “That first day she had to gut a deer, fire a rifle and cry on camera. This was done because of budget restraints as we had to get all of the shots that occur at this one location done in one day, even though these moments happen at different times in the film. Samantha was only 14 at the time and she really impressed me with how tough she is. As for Ted, he’s an old pro and has children of his own, so he knows how to communicate with them and he brought that to the scenes he shared with Samantha. I was relieved this came off so well as their relationship is the key to the whole movie.”
With Dig Two Graves being only his second feature as a director, Adams learned a great deal in the process, lessons that will stick with him during the next project he undertakes. “One of the things I learned was to trust in the filmmaking process, that there are certain steps that have to happen and you can’t rush them. Along with that, you have to project confidence amidst chaos and surround yourself with good people. If you manage to do that, you avoid a lot of problems.”
Dig Two Graves is available through various I-Tunes.