After traversing the indie-horror scene for years, Adam Green still manages to bring an admirable level of excitement and enthusiasm to projects that might otherwise be dubbed “generic” without proper ambitions. Digging Up The Marrow could have suffered a more mundane fate in the wrong hands, but Green’s nurturing touch encourages individuality and creativity – or in more horror specific terms, it spreads like a devilish infection, eating deep into your mushiest cranial tissue.
Green’s found footage mockumentary analyzes man’s ability to rationalize the existence of monsters living among us, and he does so with the help of creature-artist-extraordinaire Alex Pardee – an illustrator whose work inspired a whole gaggle of heavily-detailed monsters ready to unleash themselves on excitable audiences. Green’s child-like enthusiasm is infectious as he seeks to answer questions that many of us might be afraid of, but the documentary aspect eventually gives way to Pardee’s colorful, eccentric, and memorable creations, letting his devious influence run rampant throughout Digging Up The Marrow.
Adam Green is best known as the filmmaker behind Frozen, Holliston, and the Hatchet franchise, but his morbid curiosity about monsters leads him to the door of William Dekker (Ray Wise), a crazed fan who claims to have found an underground metropolis inhabited by creatures. Letting his imagination run wild, Green decides to begin a documentary around Mr. Dekker’s claims, bringing along producing-partner Will Barratt for the ride. Knowing that they’ll at least get some comedic moments from Dekker’s ramblings, things change after a bizarre run-in with something that can’t be explained, and Green becomes more obsessed with the notion of what monsters really are. Have our fears of the dark been warranted all these years?
Soldiers of the Hatchet Army are going to love Digging Up The Marrow, because Green’s approach allows for plenty of inside jokes about the filmmaker’s past projects. While trying to spook his buddy Will at one point, Green exclaims “I would never do the same joke twice,” which immediately gets a response of “What about Hatchet II” (Green’s not-as-well-received Hatchet sequel). All the Green staples are present – cameos from familiar friends (Kane Hodder/Josh Ethier), jokes directed at Hofstra University (an alma mater we share), a bevy of genre references, and plenty of Adam Green’s enthusiastic energy that seeps into any film he touches. Under the guidance of a less confident filmmaker, Digging Up The Marrow would have been a cheesy creature-feature with some goofy costumes, but Green is able to command viewers through intriguing character-work and a fun, jovial vibe.
Ray Wise is the only actor not portraying himself, because I doubt he believes in an underground metropolis where monsters live, but Mr. Dekker fits right in as a paranoid subject who keeps us guessing with each increasingly mysterious interview. Dekker first comes off as a stark raving lunatic, mailing Green a pile of conspiracy theories, but as the faux-documentary digs deeper into The Marrow, a thrilling sense of adventurous tension is built. Wise plays a crazy old man, but his impish and secretive nature manages to balance opinions that paint him in many different lights. We’re trained not to believe a word he says, yet irrefutable evidence begins to emerge from the shadows, increasing the intensity of each late-night stakeout.
I won’t deny that Digging Up The Marrow feels like a low-budget effort, minimizing the creature work shown on camera while using a handful of locations, but Green’s ability to address the scenario as a horror fan showcases a charming veneer that turns duller moments into more enjoyable fare. Whether it’s his producer Will Barratt commenting on how night vision makes found footage movies look like cheap pornos, or Mick Garris’ belittling remarks, Green knows what’ll get a chuckle out of hardcore horror fans.
Alex Pardee’s artistic influence will also have genre fans screeching with joy, as the creatures set forth are a mix of carnival terrors and brightly-colored nightmares. If you’ve seen Pardee’s collection of artwork already, you’d know he plays around with dark recreations of typically innocent things, like a possessed teddy bear or creepy Steve Urkel. Digging Up The Marrow‘s monsters are created with the same enchanting vileness, as illuminating, smiling faces quickly reveal fangs, rage, and unsettling characteristics – very much playing upon the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” anecdote so many fables warn of. Each monster has personality, whether they’re stomping on a car’s hood or scurrying by while emitting a high-pitched squeal, which turns mundane encounters into something more rewarding and vibrant.
Digging Up The Marrow won’t be for everyone, and I’m admittedly a vocal Adam Green supporter, but the cult filmmaker’s latest effort celebrates everything monster movies should rest their laurels on – through “found footage” none the less. It’s a slow-burn mockumentary that requires patience, LOTS of patience, but once the truth reveals itself, Digging Up The Marrow proves to be a frightfully fun adventure chock-full of hidden scares and eerie figures. Not only is Green able to analyze monster mythos and the idea that what we fear most might only be misunderstood, but he does so by injecting Pardee’s creative prowess in ways that create a beautiful nightmare. Green’s story might be more of the same, but that’s not what makes Digging Up The Marrow so damn enjoyable – and Green knows that.
Digging Up The Marrow is a tense, confident, and gorgeously terrifying monster movie that turns Alex Pardee's artistry into vibrant, eye-catching horrors.