Although I’ve recently been listening to Adam Green’s podcast, The Movie Crypt, and have heard him talk about his new movie, Digging Up the Marrow, I had no idea what to expect when I sat down to watch it. I knew it was “inspired” by the art of Alex Pardee, so I assumed the movie would have all sorts of horrific creatures in it. If anything, I was thinking Nightbreed.
When Digging Up the Marrow opened with interviews with Pardee and other artists at Comic-Con, speculating on the nature of monsters and, if they really exist, where they live, I was a little disappointed. I thought, “Oh, this is a documentary.” Indeed, the movie continues with Green sitting in his office at ArieScope Pictures talking about his career.
Setting the stage in reality, Green then deftly introduces the true nature of the story. He has been contacted by former Boston detective, William Dekker (Ray Wise) who claims to have discovered that, not only are monsters real, but they also live in underground cities mirroring ours. He calls this “the marrow” and knows where an entrance to it lies in a local cemetery.
The line between fact and fiction then becomes blurred. Green, or at least his character in Digging Up the Marrow, desperately wants to believe that monsters are real, so he is highly susceptible to Dekker’s story. The rest of the movie, while continuing with its factual style, depicts the fictional account of Green, Dekker and cameraman Will Barratt attempting to gather proof.
Digging Up the Marrow is such a mash-up of genres that it’s hard to categorize. Most obvious is that it’s found footage. At the same time, though, it’s comedy, perhaps satire, when Green says, “It’s not found footage. It’s footage-footage.” He seems to be making yet another found footage film while at the same time admitting that the time has come for the genre to pass.
The thing is, though, it’s a really good found footage film that seems to avoid the pitfalls of most others. The footage is realistic and there are no lapses where you scratch your head and ask, “Wait a minute… why were they filming that?” It helps that the movie begins the way it does, like a real documentary, then continues with Green explaining the purpose for making it.
Ultimately, though, fans will not be disappointed, because the movie becomes quite horrific. It has at least two terrific scares that made me jump, even while watching on a small laptop. It’s also a fascinating mystery-thriller. Is this Dekker guy for real? Or is he, as Green fears, “Crazy? Mentally ill?” Admitting it may be a hoax, he wonders aloud, “If only we could find one person to vouch for him…”
For the most part, Digging Up the Marrow worked for me. I was intrigued, at times fascinated, and always entertained. I found myself noting much of the dialogue. Green never makes fun of Dekker or the situation, but he hilariously makes fun of himself. When he tries to scare Barratt in the woods, then really trips, he says, “Come on, I would never do the same gag twice.” Barratt replies, “Have you seen Hatchet 2?”
When the theme of belief begins to get serious (Dekker asks, “Do you not believe me? Do you believe?” and Green replies, “I want to!”), the movie quickly turns funny. In a meeting, producer Sarah Elbert asks Green, “Do you 100% believe?” When he admits to only about 90%, she follows with, “90%. That’s a lot of percent.” Addressing what is perhaps the general public’s more common desire to believe aliens really exist, he scoffs, “Aliens? Who cares about aliens? This is monsters!”
Besides the artist interviews at the beginning of the movie, Digging Up the Marrow has cameos from other horror celebrities as Green meets resistance in convincing himself that Dekker’s monsters are real. Kane Hodder watches some film and says, “It looks good, but you need to light it better.” And at a horror convention later in the movie, Tom Holland and Mick Garris plant seeds of doubt into Green’s mind when they reveal that they’ve also had similar run-ins with Dekker.
When Wise first appeared as Dekker, I initially thought the movie’s spell was going to be broken. It had seemed so real up to that point, but the face of such a familiar, recognizable actor snapped me out of it and I knew it was a work of fiction. Soon, however, I realized the comedic tone Green was going to take and what a fantastic choice Wise was for the role. In his earnestness, Wise’s Dekker is hilarious. His deadpan reactions to Green’s verbal sparring are sublime.
The only thing I didn’t really like about Digging Up the Marrow was its ending, and I mean the very ending. It’s a take on the abruptness with which found footage films normally conclude, trying to startle the audience. With the scene that precedes it, though, it didn’t make sense to me. This is a small complaint for a movie that might be unexpected for Green’s fans, but is actually perfect for them. It’s ambitious and yet a whole lot of fun.