Digging Up The Marrow Dir. Adam Green

[Image Entertainment; 2015]

Styles: Horror mockumentary
Others: Nightbreed, Behind The Mask

I love my roommate. That’s a weird way to start a review of a horror mockumentary like Adam Green’s Digging Up The Marrow, but allow me to explain. I grew up a huge horror nerd. I read through Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine in elementary school before graduating to Clive Barker, Anne Rice, and Stephen King in middle school. I saw Lucio Fulci’s Zombi before I graduated high school. I read Fangoria magazine and watched any TV show with a vaguely horror tinge (well, I tried to but Charmed has broken many a stronger man than me before). John Carpenter is still my favorite director (and one of my favorite composers, too). I own replicas of sphere from Phantasm and the Phantom’s helmet from Phantom Of The Paradise. If you hadn’t yet gotten my point: I am a tried and true horror fiend. My roommate… is not. So, I love subjecting him to these films that he’s never seen and that utterly disgust him. I love watching him squirm during Carpenter’s The Thing or gasp at Nightmare On Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors. It’s a vicarious joy reliving those moments while seeing someone who isn’t as jaded as I am flinch and feel all the shocks that were intended. He’s not thinking about Rob Bottin’s work during the blood test, or the subtle messaging behind Wes Craven’s early films. He’s reacting on a pure visceral level just as intended. And it’s because of him that I get to see how well the shocks in Digging Up The Marrow work. Ror those scare moments, director Adam Green has succeeded. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of film surrounding those particularly jolting scenes, and that’s where the trouble lies with Green’s film.

Adam Green ostensibly plays himself, a horror auteur with rabid cult following who have enjoyed his various films (the Hatchet series, Frozen, Spiral) and his horror sitcom Holliston. As with many in the horror community, these fans submit artistic or weird things to his fanmail as a way to show their love of his work. One such submission caught his eye, as former detective William Dekker (Ray Wise) claims to have information proving that monsters are real — he’s seen them, and he’d like Green to document his findings. Green and his Ariescope Pictures co-founder Will Barratt (also playing himself) soon start interviewing Dekker to learn about a subterranean world of monsters that Dekker calls “the Marrow.” Green is dubious about Dekker’s claims, but figures it’s worth a shot if he gets to see real life monsters; worst case scenario, it’s a documentary about an old coot who thinks he sees things in the dark. As the investigation goes on, it becomes clear Dekker isn’t who he claims to be, but that doesn’t mean his other claims are any less real as Green soon finds out to terrifying consequences.

The main problem with Digging Up The Marrow is that the audience is ahead of the characters the entire time. Sure, there are some curveballs involving Dekker’s background, but we the viewers know that we’re going to see monsters and that they are real. Otherwise, why would Green even make this mockumentary? So, a lot of the short 88 minute running time is devoted to people debating the merits of Dekker’s claims and the footage that Green and Barratt capture. While this may strike a chord for verisimilitude, and may be the reality of how others would react to this enterprise, it’s unnecessary waste of time since the audience knows what kind of film they are sitting down to see. Furthermore, by casting Wise (a well known figure in the genre world), any hope of creating a sense of reality that this is actually happening is ditched pretty early on.

That’s not to say that Wise isn’t great in his role & of course he is, he’s Ray Wise. He brings a manic sense of fun, intensity, and a bit of pathos to his role as lone monster hunter. In fact, the film is full of great performances and funny asides by all of the cast (almost all of whom are playing versions of themselves). And when the foregone conclusion arrives, it is incredibly well-staged and produces many shocking moments that had both me and my roommate effectively creeped out. The design on the monsters (spoiler, I guess) is impressive and unique, drawn from the work of artist Alex Pardee whose artwork is used throughout the film. It’s just unfortunate that the efficacy of the final act couldn’t be brought to the rest of the film, as so much of it feels like it is merely treading water until that final punch.

Every horror fan, on some level, wishes monsters were real. Not the “walks among us, hearts of darkness” type of predatory people, but creatures with tentacles, fangs, and other slimy bits. That’s the thesis on which Green is making his “documentary,” and why he goes to such great lengths to indulge this possible lunatic. If he can find real monsters in the world, no matter how terrifying, it would all be worth it. It’s a real sentiment that is honestly shared by most of Green’s audience and fans, and an almost vulnerable confession of the desire to continue to hope for the extraordinary to be a reality. That heart and humor, coupled with a propulsive ending and intriguing creature effects, goes a long way to making Digging Up The Marrow an entertaining watch. But the unnecessary attempts at establishing a reality the audience already knows isn’t true that drags the film down. Even so, when this film delivered, it scared my roommate pretty well and allowed me my ghoulish moments of delighting in his fear. If for nothing else, that’s worth something to this possibly jaded horror fan.

Most Read