REVIEW: Digging Up The Marrow

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I’ve never been particularly shy about my love of most of the stuff put out by Adam Green.  I’ve gone on record multiple times discussing how HOLLISTON was one of my biggest “pick-me-ups” during cancer recovery and how I firmly believe “The Dog Monologue” from FROZEN is probably my favorite horror movie monologue since the “Why I Hate Christmas” speech from GREMLINS.  Without a doubt, DIGGING UP THE MARROW was one of my most highly anticipated films of 2015.  Kept under wraps for most of its production, horror fans have been clamoring for whatever little information they could wrangle out of Green before its release.  Going into the film, I knew just as much as everyone else.  DIGGING UP THE MARROW is set up like a documentary (without really being a documentary), it’s inspired by the art of Alex Pardee, Ray Wise is in it, and Adam Green is playing himself.  Other than these few facts, I had no idea what I was in for, and I think it’s best if you go in not knowing much either.

For fans of HOLLISTON, DIGGING UP THE MARROW’s opening sequences will feel very familiar. Green is mostly playing himself, but it feels a lot like he’s channeling the line of the “Adam” character he plays on HOLLISTON.  His actions do seem very over the top at times, almost as if he’s playing a caricature of himself and his life.  The beginning of the documentary showcases Adam Green, cinematographer Will Barratt, and the rest of the Ariescope crew as real people that we may or may not already be familiar with.  For people who know nothing about Adam Green, this opening is a great way to introduce Ariescope and its brand to a new crowd.  However, for those of us that already know Green and Ariescope, this opening feels a little forced.  Look, I’m not trying to downplay the successes that this independent company has achieved, but for a fan that is already familiar with their work, it’s 10-15 minutes of showing me things I already know.  Then again, I can’t fault him for it because it’s a pretty ingenious way to give product placement for his own work. Green is already a well-established personality through conventions, HOLLISTON, and THE MOVIE CRYPT (his podcast with filmmaker Joe Lynch), but it was really nice to see Will Barratt in front of the camera for a change.  Barratt is an extremely talented cinematographer and someone who has known Green for a very, very long time. It was entertaining to see some playful banter between the two, because you know it was as authentic as their friendship.  I’m not sure how much of their conversations were scripted, but Barratt delivers his lines like a natural.  I’m also a huge fan of any time Sarah Elbert is given screen time, so her appearance was a nice addition.  There’s a slew of other familiar faces, all sporting t-shirts of Ariescope produced media.  As fun as it was to see all of Green’s filmography plastered on the chests of everyone, it genuinely did pull me out of it a little bit. It’s like wearing your own band’s shirt to your concert.

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Everyone that appears in DIGGING UP THE MARROW is playing themselves, with the exception of genre favorite, Ray Wise.  Wise plays a man convinced that monsters are real named William Dekker.  Real talk: Ray Wise is a god among mere mortals.  His performance is hands down the strongest aspect of the entire film, and with good reason. Wise is extremely talented, but his chops really shine in this flick.  The range that he tackles in 88 minutes is more than what some performers deliver in three hour epics.  Ray Wise is truly one of the genre’s greatest performers and DIGGING UP THE MARROW is no exception.  However, I really wished that Ray Wise was playing an exaggerated version of himself.  Everyone else in the film is a familiar face to the genre and I kept waiting for someone to say, “Adam, that’s Ray Wise. Are you nuts?” The character of William Dekker is a really interesting one and I think having Ray Wise play himself (but genuinely believing in monsters) would have been a really interesting angle.  That’s admittedly a personal preference, but I cannot stress enough how fantastic Wise is in MARROW.

Although everyone else in the film is mostly acting as themselves, but there are a few moments that seem a little unauthentic.  I get it, though. The hardest part to play on camera is yourself.  When Green and Barratt allow themselves to really go there, it’s easy to go with them.  However, the sarcastic and skeptical aspects of their characters feel exactly like deleted scenes from HOLLISTON.  If that’s what they were going for, they definitely achieved it.  In a lot of ways, DIGGING UP THE MARROW feels like two entirely different films.  The “monster” side is arguably the more interesting and well-crafted film while the “real life” side of Ariescope trying to function as a working production company feels a little thrown together at times.  Again, for those unfamiliar with Green or Ariescope, this is probably one of the most brilliant ways of free marketing I’ve ever seen, but for those that already know this information, it can feel rehashed. I could have used more monsters, but that’s because the production company side of the documentary feels a lot like listening to episodes of The Movie Crypt, and the monsters were something totally different than what I’m used to seeing from Green.  While I’m on the subject, the monsters are truly unique and interesting character designs.  Alex Pardee’s style always reminds me if someone took a bunch of hallucinogenic drugs and then tried to make Disney characters.  His style is grotesque, but there’s almost something “cute” about it.  Seeing his artwork transferred cinematically was truly a sight to behold.  My only wish is that I would have gotten to see more of them.  I’m not going to include any photos of the monsters in this review, because experiencing them while watching the film is truly the best way to see them.  You can bet that I’m going to try and catch one of the tour screenings if only so I have the chance to see one of these beasts up close and personal.  These definitely weren’t run of the mill monsters, but I think they would have served better than the jump scares a couple of them were given.  Don’t get me wrong, the jump scares are pretty effective.  Admittedly, I’m that kid in the audience that screams at cat’s meowing, but there are a few jump scares so well-crafted that I jumped out of my seat.  It’s part of what makes DIGGING UP THE MARROW fun, even when the “two separate movie” style sometimes feels a little clunky.

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Like most documentary/POV films, I think DIGGING UP THE MARROW would have been much better suited to be watched with an audience.  I don’t necessarily think this film is going to be for everyone, but I commend Green for proving that he’s capable of exploring a wide variety of subgenres within Horror.  I definitely enjoyed my experience, but I think any of my disappointment comes from where I personally wanted the film to go. I stress on “personal” because this film is one that will be experienced differently by each viewer. The fact that Wise’s character’s name was “Dekker” and he was convinced monsters are real immediately forced me to draw comparisons to NIGHTBREED.  I wanted this to be an unofficial prequel to NIGHTBREED sooo badly. (Spoiler Alert: It’s not).  Green took a huge risk jumping into such a different territory, and I’m genuinely curious to see how his rabid fanbase responds to something so different than what he’s created previously.  I will say this, if you’re a fan of HOLLISTON, DIGGING UP THE MARROW will feel like a monstrous visit from a familiar friend.

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