Review: Digging Up the Marrow, do you believe in monsters?

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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25 thoughts on “Review: Digging Up the Marrow, do you believe in monsters?

  1. I stopped reading after the first paragraph b/c I want to see it for myself and as you know I always like to go in cold. I always come back to read the review after watching. Where did you see this one? I want to check it out soon.

      1. I keep trying but my list is seriously in the 800s or so! And I’m backed up on screeners somewhere up to the 30s, lol, and they have to come first.

      2. Yikes! That’s a lot of screeners! I never get screeners, and the ones I do get are for movies I’d never put on a list of movies that I “have to watch”. Good luck catching up 😉

      3. I got way behind being sick for this past year and a half – I guess only 30 actually isn’t that bad when you think about it that way. 🙂 And that’s sad-making that you only get ones you wouldn’t put on a must watch list. You should contact some of the distributors of the movies you watch and try to get on their distribution lists for screeners, if you’re interested in that. And thanks! 🙂

  2. I love this premise – it sounds so clever. So many movies made about monsters in the night, but I can’t think of another one that uses this approach.

    I also like the thought of “less is more”…I was starting to feel tense just reading your post!

    1. Awesome! Adam Green is a fun filmmaker to watch out for, loved the first Hatchet and Spiral. Marrow was way more fun than I was expecting. Solid film!

    1. The monsters were one of the film’s major strengths—super creepy and wicked looking—but they’re very rarely shown on screen. When you do see them, they come and go very quickly. I liked that quality quite a bit, but would of liked to have seen them a bit more.

      1. I guess that’s both a positive and negative. We need more films that aren’t afraid to show sickly disturbing creatures, for longer than a few seconds!

      2. Exactly. There’s definitely a fine line and I think Green did a pretty good job with it. I’m sure he was also trying to hide their very low budget, too, which is very smart for an indie film.

  3. I’m really sad to hear the ending fell short since I’ve been wanting to see this.. but oh well, I know I’ll still watch it and probably still dig most of it as you did, haha!

    1. I’ve seen some say that they really enjoyed the ending, so you may too. For me, it just didn’t quite hit the spot because the rest of the film is so excellent. Good ending, just not great.

      1. Yeah, I hear you. But I’ve realized that you and I usually agree, soooo, haha!

  4. Watched this the other night man. It really scared the shit out of me. I really liked the doco construction of the film and the old school practical monster effects. Dug this film a lot.

    1. Oh for sure, the big reveal is epic! A very surprisingly little film from Adam Green, I was definitely surprised. I would have loved to see more of the underworld, though, and I thought the ending was a little bland compared to the rest of the film.

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