Digging Up The Marrow. 2015. Directed & Written by Adam Green.
Starring Ray Wise, Adam Green, Will Barratt, Josh Ethier, Rileah Vanderbilt, Kane Hodder, Sarah Elbert, Tom Holland, Mick Garris, & Alex Pardee.
Not Rated. 89 minutes.
If I can be honest, I’m not a huge Adam Green fan as a rule. I do like him, in that I find his enthusiasm for old school horror charming. My favourites of his work are Spiral and Frozen, two great little movies and both quite different. The first Hatchet is fun, even if it’s not an awesome flick.
One major reason why I’m into Digging Up the Marrow is because Green’s enthusiasm for monsters and horror is very evident throughout, and not only that he takes this metafictional trip into a world where all that can become real. Another of the biggest reasons for enjoying the movie is the art and the designs of Alex Pardee. I first came across him via his Facebook page. There’s always something new, weird, hilarious, frightening, or all rolled into one being posted; his mind is a wealth of terrifying creation.
Together, Green and Pardee have created a weird and wild world in which the monsters of their dreams lurk just below the surface of the Earth, in a place called The Marrow. I can see why many people have brought up the idea of Nightbreed, the Clive Barker written and directed horror about a place called Midian, a world not unlike The Marrow where creatures dwell. No doubt Green and Pardee both were influenced by Barker. Still, Barker’s film involves an entirely other plot, and far as I can determine (outside of homage) their only link is the fact their monster worlds are similarly located in cemeteries. What makes Green’s movie interesting and uniquely its own is the monster design, courtesy of Pardee’s mind and sculpting by artist Greg Aronowitz, as well as a natural performance from Green himself, and the incomparable Ray Wise as an excitingly odd character whose revelations about The Marrow get scarier by the minute.
The documentary style of the film is great. Instead of a full feature in found footage, the faux-documentary format breaks the sub-genre’s monotony. This gives Green the avenue to use the relationship he has with his fans as part of the plot. The story stems from receiving a package sent by a fan who claimed, with lots of supposed evidence, that his character from Hatchet, Victor Crowley, was real. Not wanting to engage with a potentially unstable fan (though it could’ve been someone having lots of fun with a director they admire; better safe than sorry), Green set it aside. When he and Pardee met, they discussed a similar sort of story, only using the monsters of the latter’s designs and various paintings. So Pardee, a fan, played part of the genesis, and obviously later came to help out a good deal. Combining reality and fiction with Green as a leader character grounds things in an interesting way, allowing the plot to feel more real. The director-writer adds authenticity, as Pardee takes us away to another world with his wildly unique monster designs. They’re perfect for the film because they aren’t exactly what you’d expect from typical monster movies, certainly not bigger budget productions. Part of why it’s an independent movie is because Green shopped it around and nobody wanted to tackle original monsters rather than something big budget, a remake of Frankenstein or who knows what else. Using the innovative look of the creatures from Pardee’s imagination and a mockumentary angle, Green does strong work; I might even say his best.
Ray Wise as William Dekker (Dr. Decker anyone?) is a knockout. Personally, I love Wise. Although in certain roles he can verge on being hammy. Here, he’s creepy at times, sympathetic and worthy of our empathy during others. He’s compelling, mysterious, and the pain of the character’s inner life, his past, comes out of the subtle performance from Wise. Dekker comes to represent those people on the fringe of society who tell us things we ought to believe but don’t because we deem them crazy, mentally ill.
This plays into the overall technique of Green throughout the film. Seeing Dekker’s drawings (Pardee’s art) early on and not actually seeing any monsters too closely, or well lit, until the finale makes for massive impact. Some complain there aren’t enough monsters, I feel that only allowing a few good glimpses of them, including the bunch in the finale, made their appearances all the more special and exciting.
And those monsters! So, so wickedly good. The first real visible creature, the big-headed monster, is shocking and unsettles the viewer. At the same time this brings great excitement because at that point Adam has proof of monsters. Funny enough, Josh Ethier and Kane Hodder’s reactions to the initial contact are like a comment on how, as viewers, we’re jaded and at this point even a real monster doesn’t impress anymore because via effects it’s “all been done before” like people often say. It’s the thrilling, chilling finale which shows us more of the hidden monsters, such as Vance – the previously discussed monster Dekker showed Green and cameraman Will Barratt – the pumpkin-hooded Marrrow greeter, whose hood conceals more gruesome things beneath. Then there are those whose names we don’t know yet: a vampire-ish creature hidden underneath an almost child-like cartoon face; a gaping mouth on legs scurrying through the woods; and there are others, oh yes, indeed. The execution of the monsters is pretty damn perfect in my mind.
While I could’ve used a few more glimpses of the monsters, Digging Up The Marrow is a creature feature treat. It’s innovative in the use of monsters, the creations of Pardee come alive so magically. The Marrow is something many of us horror hounds have thought about over the years, of course in our own ways and various incarnations. Those of us that love the genre and grew up as lost teenagers grasping onto these types of movies as a way of relating to the world can easily enjoy the enthusiasm and excitement of Green for the story.
Mainly, the horror is a trip. The way Green delays our true look at the monsters for any length of time until the end is the best, to me. Certain reviews feel there weren’t enough monsters, not enough of the ones we saw. But it’s about the fear and uneasiness of feeling they’re all around us, just slightly hidden to the naked eye, that drives all the thrills we come to in the finale.
Sit back, enjoy the movie. Green and Wise haul the viewer in, Pardee’s monsters make for the frightful madness. If you don’t take everything too seriously, you’ll enjoy it. At the very same time, don’t not take it seriously because though there are some chuckles, Digging Up The Marrow ends as a horrifying walk through a world parallel to our own, one that only the loneliest of minds (like Dekker) can actually see.
Look harder and you might see it, too. But beware what lies inside The Marrow.