“DIGGING UP THE MARROW” (Film Review)Movies/TV,News,Reviews Ken W. Hanley
To the horror community, Adam Green is a lot of things. To some, Green is a filmmaker, one who has found success and proven his versatility in a variety of horror subgenres. To others, Green is a personality among the genre, one whose enthusiasm for horror rivals that of his biggest fans and has parlayed said passion into a podcast, a sitcom and many convention appearances. But in his latest film, DIGGING UP THE MARROW, Green presents himself in a new light, offering a version of himself as both a documentarian and an amateur monster hunter at the risk of his own career. And while one might be able to criticize Green’s ability to carry a film as a leading man, even as himself, the monster hunting aspect isn’t even the most unbelievable aspect of MARROW; that would be Green’s portrayal of himself as professionally self-destructive, especially at the cost of his own passion project.
Of course, one’s reaction to DIGGING UP THE MARROW heavily depends on how receptive the viewer is to it’s blurred reality, one in which monsters possibly exist (and, likewise, occasionally prey on humans), Adam Green plays himself and belief can be suspended as towards Ray Wise’s appearance as a fictional character. The film is clearly a work of passion on all sides, and that’s evident in every frame of the film. In fact, for a film taking the found footage/ mock-doc format, DIGGING UP THE MARROW is one of the most skillfully-directed of its ilk, with the structure and composition definitely helping in terms of revealing the mythology behind “The Marrow”. But DIGGING UP THE MARROW is beholden to its documentary format, and its in that format that the narrative seams begin to show.
Does that mean DIGGING UP THE MARROW doesn’t work as a film? No; in fact, DIGGING UP THE MARROW is effortlessly fascinating, and it’s concept in which a filmmaker meets a devoted conspiracy theorist who claims to have proof that monsters exist is one that is compelling on its own. But for every peak that MARROW manages to reach, there’s an equal valley it happens to find as well, whether it be the result of the budget, the point-of-view or Green’s own hefty ambition. For those looking for a first-person NIGHTBREED, DIGGING UP THE MARROW offers only a taste, and most of it is hampered by a confident yet misguided “tell-don’t-show” mentality that fits the vision for the film.
Now, even though Green’s vision for the film entirely exists in reality- or, at the very least, a version of reality- he’s clearly not trying to pull a fast one on the audience. But even with authenticity considered, Green’s charisma and excitement for the Pardee-inspired material is somewhat hindered by the nature of his performance. Green mostly offers a slice of his real persona in MARROW, especially during his more frustrated scenes against Wise’s William Dekker, but his performance lacks the nuance it needs to feel truly empathetic. Perhaps if Green would have substituted himself with the likes of a horror cohort, such as the notorious BLOOD DRIVE contributor Paul Solet, there would have been a sense of objectivity to the project that would make it feel like a work of curiosity rather than a feature-length wind up for a nightmarish payoff. But instead, Greens offers a grinning visual embodiment of anticipation, which almost counteracts the brief yet effective appearance of the monsters.
However, as a work of fiction, DIGGING UP THE MARROW’s strongest human asset would be Ray Wise, who is undeniably superb as Green’s subject, the wild-eyed William Dekker. Wise sells Dekker 100%, whose offers to Green to see The Marrow and its inhabitants are rooted in a desperation to be believed as much as it is in a desperation to find a solution to a much more secretive problem. Dekker is flawed, criminally so, and more than a little nutty, but Wise sells the character as engaging and as genuine as any performance in recent memory. And in Dekker’s performance, Green further establishes his versatility as an actor’s director, giving Wise the freedom to explore the character while offering parameters via the documentary format to leave just enough shrouded in mystery.
Furthermore, when the monsters do arrive on the scene, DIGGING UP THE MARROW gives horror fans what they want, yet only via Green’s meticulous pacing. Alex Pardee’s designs do most of the heavy lifting, and when applied to the physical creations, they offer a look at some things even ardent fright fans haven’t seen before, especially during MARROW’s third act. But for all the monstrous reveals and sketches offered by the film, Marrow’s rich and intriguing mythology feels ultimately underserved by the film’s budgetary restraints.
Sadly, DIGGING UP THE MARROW’s greatest asset is it’s greatest downfall: pure, unadulterated ambition. MARROW strives to break every expectation, whether it be that of mock-doc horror, monster movies, Green as a director and Wise as a performer. But in doing so, MARROW fails to address certain basic functions of its narratives: the stakes are not high enough on Green’s part, and the risks are too unclear to establish them for Dekker. Furthermore, the narrative never necessarily tries to follow a three-act structure, and the documentary element keeps the descent into fantasy into becoming fully visceral.
Overall, while fun and well-made in its own right, DIGGING UP THE MARROW’s thorough approach hinders just as much as it works. Ultimately, the film works at furthering Wise’s reputation as a performer, Pardee’s reputation as a visionary artist and Green’s reputation as a diverse director. And for every dissatisfaction, Green still remains a filmmaker worth watching, if anything for the reasons that MARROW offers such different material than one might expect from Green’s sensibilities. However, DIGGING UP THE MARROW isn’t the film it truly strives to become, and while getting so close is admirable, it’s an unfortunate experience to watch it fall back to reality.