Studio: Image Entertainment
Director: Adam Green
Writer: Adam Green
Producer: Cory Neal
Stars: Ray Wise, Adam Green, Will Barratt, Josh Ethier, Sarah Vanderbilt, Kane Hodder, Sarah Elbert, Tom Holland, Mick Garris, James McCarthy, Alex Pardee
Filmmaker Adam Green chronicles a mysterious man who claims he can prove real monsters exist in a secret underground society.
Adam Green is to genre cinema what Kevin Smith is to the world of slacker chic. These are two accomplished indie filmmakers with fan followings so fiercely devout that the personalities behind their projects have become as much of a tradable commodity as the productions themselves.
Both directors have reached career points where their inherent appeal guarantees an eager audience hungry for any material these men produce. In turn, this gives Green, Smith, and their producers leeway to explore experimental ideas, or even flippant whims, knowing that those with Victor Crowley and Jason Mewes arm tattoos will always tune in no matter what. It’s a cushiony safety net for filmmakers with far less to fear about failure than in their formative years, although arguments can be made that successful creators should not necessarily be exempt from a stern hand willing to say “no” or raise a hand in question.
Which might be the case with Adam Green’s “Digging Up the Marrow.” Categorized on IMDB as Biography, Drama, and Fantasy, “Digging Up the Marrow” is a somewhat difficult to describe amalgamation of mockumentary, horror, comedy, and “found footage” that unsurprisingly has trouble finding its thematic footing. Inspired by the comic book nightmare designs of artist Alex Pardee, and with little more of a springboard beyond that, “Marrow” feels a bit like a “let’s just see what happens” lark from Green, not unlike Kevin Smith taking “Tusk” into production based on a half-joke podcast musing.
In dirt-walled catacombs beneath hidden cemeteries dotting forgotten forests lurks Midian- excuse me, “The Marrow,” a haven for oddities and monsters shunned by society and thus creating one of their own underground. It’s a reference to the concept of Clive Barker’s “Nightbreed” (review here) hiding in such plain sight that the mysterious main man is even named Dekker.
In a fiction meets reality mashup, Dekker is a loose screw crackpot who contacts Adam Green with a wild story that real monsters do in fact exist, and he can prove it. Accompanied by cinematographer Will Barratt, Green takes time away from penning new “Holliston” scripts to turn Will’s camera toward an investigative documentary on Dekker and his claims. While Adam and Will spend afternoons deducing if Dekker is on the level, nights are spent in the mild madman’s company staking out the cemetery, hoping to capture evidence of the Marrow monsters on camera.
The burr under the saddle of “Digging Up the Marrow” is that Green never clarifies how seriously he wants his audience to take the effort. Green takes self-effacing verbal potshots at the “played out” perception of the “found footage” subgenre, even though his film contentedly employs tropes like green-tinted night vision and “Night 1/Night 2” text overlays without so much as an ironic wink. (Green protests that his would-be monster doc is not “found footage,” but rather “footage footage.”) An oddly jazzy Bear McCreary score then provides be-bop beats from a xylophone and bemusing music seemingly befitting of a Tom and Jerry short. Eclectic and occasionally eccentric, the overall vibe is more of a drunk stumble between serious and comical without threading a needle through a sweet spot that would effectively blend both moods.
Character actor ace Ray Wise stands out as Dekker, implying through a recognizable face that Green isn’t masking his movie as a fantasy to be treated with a true “take this as authentic” veneer. Interestingly, Wise plays the wild-eyed conspiracy theorist with uncharacteristic understatement, although he is very much visually vested in his role. Wise is purposefully not as expressively tense and manic as many of his performances are, which is nearly ironic given how cartoonish the rest of the film becomes. Deadpan in delivery, Wise surprisingly provides a highly effective counterbalance to the somewhat comical tone.
Adam Green, on the other hand, plays an exaggerated version of himself. During interview segments, Green makes himself Dekker’s foil by continually cutting to sitcom straight man reaction shots in a manner you would never see on “60 Minutes.” Generously sprinkled in-jokes nodding at his films and personal life offer snickers for diehard devotees, though the self-promotion can read like such a tribute to himself that casual fans and outsiders might think they’ve stumbled across a strange sort of demo reel for Green’s production company.
“Digging Up the Marrow” grows sillier in premise when its content moves to discussions of monster fascinations with chain restaurant pancakes and an umbrella-headed deformity seducing a drunk college boy. The first curiously misshapen monster sighting doesn’t take place until half an hour in, at which point confusion over the film’s comedic nature confounds whether or not anything is supposed to be scary or suspenseful at all. There is a “what is Dekker really hiding” mystery powering the plotline, yet it is never brought to a boil since the audience puts together the truth from the very first clue while the on-camera version of Adam Green continues scratching his head.
Adam Green fans will no doubt lap up the movie as an interesting entry in his filmography, even if it will ultimately rank on the less favorable side of the line when that list is divided in two. Peppered with moments of fun, fright, and irreverent whimsy, the total package still has a slapdash air preventing the idea from fully gelling into a cohesive whole. Circling back to the introductory simile, perhaps an accurate summary is to say that “Digging Up the Marrow” is far from being regarded as Green’s “Jersey Girl,” but it isn’t a defining hallmark for his career, either.
Review Score: 60