(Full disclosure: the director of this movie is a friend of mine. I have not liked all of his films. Just most of them. Including this one. End of disclosure.)
As a huge fan of horror cinema and documentary filmmaking, I’ve sampled at least a half-dozen “ghost hunter / paranormal investigator” TV shows, and I’ve found them all remarkably boring. Some of them would be interesting if they were just documentaries about abandoned buildings with haunted pasts, but generally they’re just a bunch of unconvincing actors (or laughable “experts”) wandering around in the dark, making stuff up as they go along.
I mention all this junk because Adam Green’s new movie, Digging Up the Marrow, feels a lot like a wise-ass parody of those allegedly paranormally investigatory nonsense programs. It’s the story of two filmmakers (Green and his longtime cinematographer Will Barratt) who are contacted by a horror fan who claims to have evidence that monsters exist. At first, Green sees the cinematic potential of following up on the “crazy” William Dekker, and Barratt remains skeptical, but after a few conversations we start to realize something: either this Dekker weirdo actually does have evidence of a subterranean world (called “The Marrow”), or he’s a truly gifted and creative charlatan. Either way, it could probably make for an interesting piece of documentary filmmaking.
Plot-wise, that’s all you need to know about Digging Up the Marrow because, unlike Green’s considerably more straightforward thrillers (Hatchet, Frozen), this one is sort of a game you play along with. Is Dekker a lunatic? Are Green and Barratt harassing an unhinged man just to get a story for their movie? Does “The Marrow” actually exist? Or maybe it’s all a ploy to get Dekker some attention from a group of filmmakers he clearly admires.
For the first half of the film, Green, Barratt, and Ray Wise (as Dekker) spend a fair amount of time bantering back and forth about monsters this and secret domains that, but once a few of the mysteries are laid bare (in rather creepy fashion), Digging Up the Marrow goes from a tongue-in-cheek faux-documentary to a sort of a comedic homage to Clive Barker’s Nightbreed. (I mean, come on. Wise’s character is even named Dekker! Nice one, Adam!)
Kudos to artist/producer Alex Pardee in the special effects department (I’m being vague on purpose), and also to our old pal Adam Green for trying something a little bit lighter, sillier, and more personal than his earlier films, but the true-blue star of Digging Up the Marrow is (of course) Ray Wise. Less than a week ago I mentioned how the veteran character actor steals huge chunks of the drily appealing Suburban Gothic, and the man does it again here, albeit with a completely different type of character. Generally utilized as a stern military figure or a disapproving dad in studio films, Ray Wise is given much more room to roam in independent genre movies, and the result is always entertaining. Here he goes from plain-old weird to oddly sympathetic to boisterously amusing, and that’s all before Act III hits the screen.
Fortunately there’s more to Digging Up the Marrow than one colorful performance; it works as a dry comedy, a slow-burn campfire story, and sometimes, just here and there, as a clever, insightful look at our frustratingly one-sided relationship with the paranormal – and how we should always be careful what we wish for. If you’re hoping for another Hatchet sequel or a standard piece of downbeat found footage material, you might be disappointed. Personally I had a pretty good time following these three guys on their crazy monster hunt.
Scott Weinberg (ScottEWeinberg)