Adam Green is back behind the camera (and in front of it) with his first feature film since 2010’s Victor Crowley bloodbath Hatchet II, as he explores the possibility of a world beneath our own in which monsters actually exist in his faux documentary Digging Up the Marrow. Ray Wise plays William Dekker, a man obsessed with the things that go bump in the night, and who—according to him—has been tracking these real-life monsters for decades. He claims that there are these holes in the ground, holes that lead to a world that mirrors our own, only it’s a place for the monstrosities of the Earth that have no where else to go. It’s a fascinating concept that Green brings to life in the form of a faux documentary as he and longtime friend Will Barratt set out to see if Dekker is as crazy as his theory, or if he’s actually telling the truth.
Digging Up the Marrow is essentially about one thing—are monsters real? It’s an important question in this film’s case because Green smartly tells the story though a somewhat skeptical lens, almost daring the audience to pick a side—believer or nonbeliever. While Green and Barratt are playing themselves in the film, their characters are meant to reflect those who believe and those who don’t. Green wants to believe Dekker’s story more than anything else while Barratt remains suspicious about what they’ve gotten themselves into. It’s a great dynamic, one that allows the film to toy with the very idea of whether or not monsters exist, and it totally works.
And a lot of the reason why it works is because Green does a great job in building tension, using his monsters as a driving force behind the terror; even when they’re not on screen, the thought of them lurking in the darkness is powerful enough. This is where Digging Up the Marrow is at its best, too. At the beginning of the film, Green teases these monsters with one terrifying drawing after the next, relishing in the fact that the audience has to wait for the big reveal. It’s all about tension, and because he does a nearly perfect job leading us into the mouth of madness, Digging Up the Marrow becomes a surprisingly horrifying experience.
While I can see some people clamoring for more monsters, I thought Green found the right balance between what to show on screen and what not to. Monster movies, such as this, tend to be better when they take the Jaws route, in that less is almost always more. The few times we see these monsters take over the screen, they leave nothing behind but rattled nerves and it’s because they’re used sparingly.
Digging Up the Marrow had a lot going for it, in fact, I thought the first two-thirds of the film were great. The issue, however, is that for a movie made up of fantastical creatures and otherworldly concepts, the final act was surprisingly uninspired. The entire world of ‘the marrow’ is right there for the taking, yet Green was only interested in showing us what comes out of it and nothing else. It’s a bummer, too, because Dekker even teases that their world is just like ours, only its inhabited by monsters—love, heartbreak, life and death, it all exists there. Perhaps Green wanted that to be left to our imaginations, but I can’t help but feel let down that we never got a taste of it.
It’s a film made up of grand ideas and wicked creatures, and although it’s never explored to the fullest, it’s an original concept that offers plenty of scares and a hell of a lead performance from Ray Wise. So despite a questionable ending, the lead-up is a tense, skin-crawling film that will no doubt leave plenty of people checking under their beds before turning the lights out.
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