SOFT FOR DIGGING
The unmistakeable aura of The Blair Witch Project (1999) hangs over Soft for Digging it is a student film shot on video, it is made for only a reputed $6000 budget (cheaper than Blair Witch) and involves haunted happenings in the Maryland backwoods. For all the quickness to compare it to Blair Witch though, Soft for Digging has a modest degree of originality of its own. J.T. Petty attempts to do some highly artistically ambitious things, especially given the novice nature of the exercise for one, there is almost no dialogue in the film. There are about four lines at the asylum near the end and the old man gets to say a single word, which is incomprehensible. All the rest is conveyed by gesture and acting, something that requires an impressive degree of attention in conveying things via body language and gesture. Here the old man Edmond Mercier gives a convincing performance.
Petty also achieves an effectively haunted atmosphere. The film has a slow, somnolent pace Petty trades in slow fades and appealingly opens each section on a chapter number and a brief précis of the action that will follow. Unusually good is his slow accumulation of background atmosphere the sinister cat lurking, the foregrounded boiling pot, the reindeer candy cane and the sense of the seasons passing at the cabin. When it comes to the outright manifestations, Petty evinces something eerie and unearthly happening in the woods. The sped-up rotating head effect has become old hat in the couple of years since the film was made but the disappearing dead body and strangulation scenes are highly effective.
The film becomes less adept in the second half. Here the unearthly atmosphere of the first half in the woods segues into a mundanely ordinary piece about a ghost seeking retribution for its murder. It is a disappointing comedown from the almost Lovecraftian unearthliness that Petty conjures in the first half. The Blair Witch Project was much more successful in sustaining its atmosphere by not revealing anything about the agency behind the haunting. This reveals too much and in so doing loses it.
J.T. Petty went on on the basis of this to direct a number of professional films with Mimic: Sentinel (2003), S&Man (2006), The Burrowers (2008), Hellbenders (2012) and Gone: VR 360 (2016), while he has also written the various Splinter Cell videogames.
Film online in several parts beginning here:-