Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Digging Up the Marrow (2014)

Horror director Adam Green (in a somewhat meta move played by Digging’s director Adam Green) has been contacted by one William Dekker (Ray Wise). Dekker claims to know about a secret society of the monstrous and the deformed who have moved underground into a place he calls the Marrow, and that he’s been observing their activities from a distance ever since.

Dekker now wants Green to document his experiences, and the film we are watching is of course the supposed product of that documentary work. There are early hints – apart from his theories – that Dekker is either much crazier than he seems or lying to Green and his intrepid camera man Will Barratt (actual camera man Will Barratt about whose actual intrepidness I know nothing but hope much), but although the director catches them, he really rather wants to believe that monsters are real. Plot developments will in turn push Green in turn closer to the side of belief as well as closer to a healthy scepticism but – this being a horror movie and all – there might just be something in his future that’ll convince him which of the positions is true. Which, as it turns out, just might not be the position more conducive to his, or his wife’s Rileah’s (actual wife of Adam Green Rileah Vanderbilt) physical health.

I am, as I so often am, quite surprised by how much I enjoyed Adam Green’s fake documentary, specifically because I hated his Hatchet, loathed his Hatchet 2, and really didn’t like his Frozen at all, which is not the sort of thing that makes a boy optimistic about his encounters with a director’s further works. Digging Up the Marrow is of course quite a different film from those three, and while it shares the Hatchet movies’ love for showing off its director’s – clearly humongous – knowledge of horror history, it does not generally do this by going for the most obvious goal in the most mean-spirited manner. Where the director’s other films always felt to me like smug declarations of superiority about their own material (though I’m pretty sure they are not meant that way, going by interviews with Green), Digging Up instead feels like a love letter, in particular to the monsters of Alex Pardee (whose inspired monsters come to life a little in the final act in rather awesome form), Nightbreed, found footage movies, and probably Ray Wise, realized with just the right degree of critical distance.

The main element of the film I suspect quite a few people will have their problems with (apart from the usual, “found footage sucks”, “we’ve seen this all before and it’s just not realistic” etc, blah blah that always seems curious to me in a genre where people will gladly watch the 678th Friday the 13th film about a dead killer with a hockey mask killing the same clichés as in the 677 movies before), is Green’s decision to centre the film on a fictionalized version of himself instead of a random made-up director character. I’m of a bit of two minds on this one. I can see how Green doing Green in an environment that actually is his own adds to the veracity as well as the ironic element of the film, adding that decisive bit of real documentary to the fake documentary. On the other hand, there are a few moments that seem to be a bit too self-indulgent, like the scene with Kane Hodder whose only function seems to be to demonstrate that Green hangs out with Kane Hodder, something that’s only very tangentially relevant for anything else in the movie. As an actor, Green is fortunately not too bad, so there’s no problem there; as a director, he manages to keep a film where really not much happens early on moving without piling on stuff, avoiding the pitfall of all bad and many mediocre POV horror films, the draggy first hour, while doing some clever and subtle stuff with misdirecting his audience’s attention.

Speaking of acting, a part of Digging Up’s particular charm rests on the shoulders of Ray Wise, whose performance as Dekker is absolutely fantastic, making a joy of scenes that really only consist of him talking to Green describing his monster encounters and dubious theories, scenes that could in lesser hands have turned out so silly, they could have robbed the film of all tension and believability. Not surprisingly, Wise is still great at being intense and weird, selling everything he needs to sell, the peculiarities in his behaviour the film’s narrative will never (and really can’t) explain feeling like actual parts of Dekker’s persona.

That alone is wonderful stuff, but Digging Up is additionally a rather clever film that actually has something to say about our (it’s possibly the “humanity at large”-us, even) need or want to belief, the paradox lying at the heart of wanting to believe in monsters and loving monsters like we horror fans tend to do, all expressed with degrees of elegance you don’t see every day. And would you believe it, finding what one wishes for might just see one ending up staring into a camera like the character in a Lovecraft tale scribbling his final message about a hand at his window?

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