Digging Up the Marrow (2014)

Directed By: Adam Green
Written By: Adam Green
Starring: Adam Green
  Will Barrett
  Ray Wise
Digging Up the Marrow

Adam Green, one of horror’s most hardworking men, with a constant output of features and a TV show, returns to the silver screen, this time tackling the well-threaded faux-realism sub-genre with Digging Up The Marrow. Presented as a finished documentary, the film blurs the line between fact and fiction, using reality as the perfect gateway to an effective fantasy.

Filmmaker Adam Green (the director playing himself) receives a letter and package from former police detective William Dekker, claiming that monsters are real and that he knows the way in to their world (the titular Marrow). Intrigued and excited by the prospect, Green and his cameraman Will Barrett (also playing himself) work with Dekker (Ray Wise, the only actor playing a distinctly fictional role) to document his claims and prove there is an entire world beneath our feet.

The strength of a film like this lies in the surprise. Are monsters real? What is Dekker trying to show Green and Barrett? What will it look like? When will it happen? Going in as spoiler free to this film as possible greatly enhances the viewing experience. Off the bat, owing to artist Alex Pardee‘s involvement, people will know they are going to see something, but the questions will remain; in what context? Is it real or all a trick?

The thing about Digging Up The Marrow that will catch people off guard is that in many ways, it is actually a comedy. Almost from the outset, we are treated to the sarcastic friend-banter between Green and Barrett, who provide a realistic portrayal of people who know each other so well that they communicate in offhandness. The only standard horror trope character is Ray Wise’s Dekker, who could almost have wandered out of the fog warning the townspeople of the coming danger. Realistic reactions to an almost absurd character are what sell the film. We, the audience, are giving sideways glances along with Green and Barrett as Dekker lays out the plan for seeing the monsters.

It’s this surprise level of realistic humour that lends the film the power to truly shock when things kick in to gear. The proof of a good horror lies in if the audience can use the characters as avatars for themselves, relating to the emotions and agreeing with the decisions, even in fantastical situations, or going against this and risking alienating or even insulting the audience. Marrow is firmly in the former camp. We jump when the characters jump, and let out embarrassing screams just as they do (well, some of us do, at least). The film doesn’t build a tense atmosphere, relying more on jump scares and shock moments hidden in the frame. Fun is one of the most optimal words to use to describe Digging Up The Marrow. Though there is danger, the film never crosses over into nasty territory, a breath of fresh air among some of the heavier cinematic fare at the moment.

Without seeing the film, it might seem a misstep to have Ray Wise playing an entirely fictional character among all these ‘real’ characters, but his performance is scene-stealing. Ray Wise is always Ray Wise, but when his Dekker struggles with his own demons, there is no more perfect fit. You forget he is Ray Wise the actor, and believe he is William Dekker. There are also numerous cameos throughout, sure to raise a cheer or smile with any audience, again building this realistic world.

A major strength to the film is that people completely unfamiliar with Green will find the film as accessible as those who know his work. In fact, there are times when those familiar with Green’s Holliston sitcom may confuse the characters, and on occasion, in this realistic world, there is some less than natural humour (the over the top cutaways to Green during the first major interview with Wise stand out), but these are minor quibbles. Digging Up The Marrow plays best with a crowd, feeding off each other’s anticipation in the screening, and coming away from it, I was compelled to immediately see it again, and to share it with others.

Digging Up The Marrow stands as a testament to just how good the fake documentary style can be. It almost feels insulting to use the words fake documentary to describe it. It could more accurately be called a horror for the masses.

Whether or not the monsters ARE real, you will have to see for yourself.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆

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