Indie-horror filmmaker Adam Green, creator of the Hatchet film franchise and television series Holliston turns his eye to the found footage genre for Digging Up The Marrow, a faux-documentary of sorts based on the work of graphic artist Alex Pardee. Green plays himself through interviews he conducts with William Dekker, played by Ray Wise, a retired police officer who believes he can prove the existence of monsters and that he knows their hiding place, an underground cave in the woods he calls the “marrow.” Naturally Green is skeptical, but his childhood love for things that go bump in the night which has carried over into adulthood creates an inescapable conflict when he desperately wants it to be true.
And that’s the prevailing question that haunts the film to its end, are there monsters or is it all a hoax?, and at times it threatens to stall the momentum Green builds. Any other film would be forced to elaborate more on the story, or create subplots to distract from the nagging fact that refusing to show actual monsters would be considered a cop out by the many fans who have lined up three times over to see the handiwork of violent killer Victor Crowley in the Hatchet films. Green skates by far too much on nepotism alone, providing an all-access pass to Horror-cons and their mavens, like Tom Holland and Don Coscarelli and Lloyd Kaufman, who all show up to prove that not just anybody could make a film like this. As a horror fan the joy at seeing these icons play themselves is not lost on me, but the only thing they are killing is time, as the back and forth between Green and Wise, and then Green and his production crew and cameraman about whether or not monsters are real gets old quickly. There is a sense that Green is taking his time explaining things to anybody who will listen and it ultimately undermines a film that’s entire narrative hinges solely on an end reveal.
While much of Digging Up The Marrow elicits a symphony of vicarious thrills in the choir it preaches to, it does have a few tricks up its sleeve, mainly with the front-and-center performance of Ray Wise. Usually relegated to minor, offbeat roles and cameos, here the camera rolls on him for minutes at a time, and whether he’s ad-libbing or not, the man who played Laura Palmer’s dad in Twin Peaks is electrifying. Elsewhere Green’s found footage approach becomes intermittently effective, establishing terror while traipsing through the dark woods with nothing but a camera light, and even if he ultimately relies on jump scares, we’re not sure what exactly, if anything, is going to jump out at us. The real star of the show, however, is the incorporation of artist Alex Pardee’s drawings of horrific monsters which conceal chaos and torment behind an almost innocent, cartoonish design.
Sadly the ending is a let down, and the journey down inside the “marrow” plays more like a rabbit hole as Green tries to have his cake and eat it to, with a cryptically gonzo finale that is out of sync with everything that came before. It’s as if Green understood the either/or dichotomy of his film and decided he was going to forego such an easy resolution, but it just raises more questions than it answers. Still it doesn’t take away from the film’s many inspired moments, which probably cap out at about sixty minutes of screen time. Digging Up The Marrow is a must-see for generational horror fans, who should get the most out of it, but as a stand-alone film playing to the masses, coming up far short in the story department while capitulating to the current trend of found-footage mania, Adam Green’s film is not the homerun it should have been for either audience.
The Verdict: Rave