At one stage during DIGGING UP THE MARROW, while showing some colleagues recordings of an alleged monster sighting, Adam Green responds to the criticism of it being “just another Found Footage Movie” by defensively proclaiming, “It’s not Found Footage, it’s just… Footage.” It’s one of the wittier self-referential bits that made this an enjoyable watch.
Not an easy feat, because the Found Footage sub-genre has been squeezed to death more than the last lemon slice in a convention of Whiskey Sour addicts. Really, the concept of a fake documentary where some assholes investigate a haunted house or asylum or a legendary creature only to find that the legends are true has been tapped to the point where you need a cartload of lube to make it worthwhile for me.
So it’s to his credit that Adam Green managed to keep me watching through DIGGING UP THE MARROW, his first movie in five years. Scott and loyal readers of Anythinghorror will be familiar with Green through the HATCHET franchise and other movies like FROZEN (No, not that one) and my favourite entry in the movie CHILLERAMA, “The Diary of Anne Frankenstein”.
I haven’t been as familiar with Green, either personally or via his work, but I have been aware of the buzz surrounding DIGGING UP THE MARROW. In August 2014, the movie showed up at the the Film 4 Fright Fest in London, garnering overwhelming praise, UK Horror Scene calling it “a masterpiece” and said that it was “one of the scariest films of the past two decades” while Flick Feast called it “an event movie that taps into primal fears you didn’t even know existed.” But could it match up to such praise?
It opens with Green playing a version of himself, alongside cameraman Will Barratt, who in real life has worked in this position as well as producer on all his recently films since 2000. He is ostensibly making a documentary on monsters, doing the usual convention runs and talking head clips with the likes of Tony Todd, PHANTASM’s Don Coscarelli and Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman.
But soon he talks of a new direction his documentary will take, courtesy of retired Boston detective William Dekker (Ray Wise, most recently seen by me in SUBURBAN GOTHIC). Dekker has approached him with a fantastic notion: that monsters are real, born to humans but soon vanishing from society to a subterranean community he has called The Marrow. Which I suppose doesn’t sound any better or worse than Midion.
The Marrow is allegedly huge, spanning across America with entrances in cemeteries and parks, and the monsters, who vary in both appearance and temperament, only rarely venture back to the surface to interact with humans. And Dekker has been obsessed for decades with studying them from afar, documenting and detailing them, and has approached Green for help.
And though Green sees him as being a few Osmonds short of a singing group (at one point, Dekker indicates with all sincerity that one of the Marrow entrances is under an IHOP, because “everyone loves pancakes”), Dekker’s charisma and commitment infects Green. And the infection takes hold one evening, when he, Dekker and Barratt stake out one of the alleged entrances…
There’s a lot to like about DIGGING UP THE MARROW. Fans of Green will appreciate the expected in-jokes and cameos from the likes of Kane Hodder, the genre references, and even the self-deprecation (at one point, when Green declares, “I’d never do the same joke twice,” Barratt responds with, “What about HATCHET II?”). It’s also refreshing for characters to be self-conscious about the type of film they’re in (Barratt for instance commenting on how night vision always makes found footage look like cheap porn).
Also noteworthy is Ray Wise, the only actor not playing himself or a version of himself, who brings a genuine gravitas and charisma to his performance, really selling what could easily have been an over-the-top, one-note portrayal. When the movie first introduces him, I was wary that his presence as a fictional character would ruin the verisimilitude being created within the mockumentary, but he manages to help you forget that he’s an actor. Really, the whole effort is one of the most successful mockumentaries ever made.
Then there is the artistic influence of Alex Pardee, best known for illustrating album artwork for The Used, who worked as Art Director, Executive Producer and Creature Designer, and brings a unique look to the creatures we glimpse in the movie, a mix of the brightly coloured and the creepy. It reflects well in the movie, which appears to use low-budget but practical experts to good if limited advantage. Now, I made a cryptic reference earlier to the comparison between this and the classic film NIGHTBREED, both of which feature a subterranean realm of monsters (and Dekker’s name, I presume, is a nod to the villainous character played by David Cronenberg in the 1990 film). But anyone expecting a huge monsterfest in MARROW as you get in NIGHTBREED might be disappointed, but shouldn’t be, as there is an amazing buildup of tension and suspense in the former that leads to a hell of a conclusion.
If there is any drawback to DIGGING UP THE MARROW, it’s Adam Green himself. It might just be a personal hangup I have, but there’s a breed of filmmaker whose loyal fanbase awards them a celebrity eclipsing their artistic output: Hitchcock, Tarantino, Spike Lee, Kevin Smith… and Adam Green. For the most part, their work is more interesting than the men themselves, and I have little patience or desire to feed their egos more than the fanboys already do when they decide to star as themselves in their own self-referential works – I love Kevin Smith’s movies, for instance, but loathe watching him play himself in COMIC BOOK MEN (and can I put out a related Screw You to the habit nowadays of interviews where the interviewers who include shots of themselves nodding in agreement? I don’t need to be reminded that you’re there, people).
And MARROW spends a little too much time setting up Green’s semi-fictionalised version of himself (and his wife and friends), as well as thinly-veiled advertisements for his other output, such as his FEARnet TV sitcom HOLLISTON, and not enough delivering what you’re there to see, and it threatens to end up almost as disappointing as nearly every other found footage movie out there. I’d love to have seen an expansion of the fake mythology of the Marrow, bringing in more people and history and tying it in with other legends such as Bigfoot, The Jersey Devil, and OJ Simpson.
DIGGING UP THE MARROW remains a fresh and interesting take on a tired sub-genre, and is a strong contender already for the Top Ten Horror Movies of 2015. It’s available on VOD, and the trailer is below.
Director: Adam Green
Plot: 3 out of 5 stars
Gore: 0 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Deggsy. Digging Up Nothing. Gardening Sucks.