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Dir. J.T. Petty USA, 2002 16mm
J.T. Petty's debut feature is a restrained and superbly constructed minimalist horror film that manages to hold audiences rapt with attention despite its almost total lack of dialogue.
A reclusive old man who lives in the woods wakes up one morning and goes about his daily routine -- a trip to the outhouse, a cup of tea, the fetching of the paper -- but when his cat unexpectedly darts off into the woods, the man's familiar milieu suddenly takes on a dark new significance as he witnesses the murder of a small child only minutes from his home.
Haunted by images of the child, of the murder, and of her murderer -- and by the suspicion that the murderer has seen him -- the old man is determined to find her killer, although though the police seem certain that a murder has not even occurred. One might notice that American horror of late seems to be exorcising a previous repression concerning child abuse and murder, which may be coming from an influx of foreign genre pictures -- Imanol Uribe's Plenilunio and Jaume Balaguero's The Nameless for example -- that don't shy away from such sensitive subject matter.
Soft for Digging utilizes this trend to create a truly horrific and genuinely scary film about one man's disillusionment when a lifetime of experience and notions of a universal morality have failed to prepare him for the utmost in inhumanity. Like Lodge Kerrigan's Clean, Shaven, Soft for Digging signifies a quiet revolution; it doesn't rely on flashy editing, saturated cinematography or conventional emotional cues to elicit a response; instead it almost recalls silent films and Victorian epic novels with its use of expository intertitles to distinguish chapters in the narrative ("Chapter One: In which we are introduced to Virgil Manoven; his very bad cat runs off.").
With its economic and concise packaging of information, and consequent legion of possible readings, Soft for Digging is truly an inspiring example of independent cinema.