Monday Morning Movie Review: Digging Up the Marrow (2014)

My fifth trip to Universal Studios in the past eleven months is done, and I’ve put another 900 miles on my little 2017 Nissan Versa Note SV getting there and back again.  It was another great trip, but as much as I love heading down there, it will likely be awhile before I return.  Of course, I thought the same thing when I went last February before The Virus hit, and it was the most Universal Studios-filled year of my life.

After catching up on e-mails and some work after getting back, I decided to see what schlock Hulu had to offer.  The quality of Hulu as a streaming service has really taken a dive, and it’s confoundingly difficult to find specific flicks on the service.  I’ve been on a huge Hammer Films kick lately, an Hulu has one or two of their films; it would be great if there was a way I could search for films by studio, rather than just trying to search the names of Hammer’s movies and hoping I get a hit.

Like all cut-rate services, Hulu is also putting more and more content behind additional paywalls and subscription services.  Sometimes I’ll see that Hulu has a movie I’m searching for in my browser, only to log into the app to find I have to add a $12 a month subscription to HBO or Showtime to view it.  No thanks.

I suppose I can’t complain too much when I’m paying $2.15 a month, and I will note one positive of Hulu:  it has dozens (maybe hundreds; I don’t know, because, again, the service is so difficult to search and navigate) of crummy horror movies.  That’s probably a negative for many users, but it’s a gold mine for someone like me, who genuinely enjoys watching bad horror movies.

Of course, there are occasionally gems—unpolished or otherwise—amid the dross.  So it was this evening that I stumbled upon one such precious stone, blemished though it may be:  2014’s Digging Up the Marrow.

Digging Up the Marrow is an interesting twist on the “found-footage” craze that hit horror in the last decade.  I do not typically care for found footage films, as they depend upon increasingly unrealistic camera placements to work, and they try to substitute shaking a camera around wildly for actual action.  That makes sense for a budget filmmaker, but the conceit has grown stale as bigger-budget productions have adopted it for either stylistic or budgetary reasons.

Ah, but the twist:  in Digging, horror film director Adam Green—apparently, a big name in horror about seven years ago—uses his real-life production company as accidental documentary filmmakers.  They’ve been approached by a fan, William Dekker (played by Ray Wise of Twin Peaks fame), who claims that monsters are actually real.  His theory is that children born with severe deformities eventually move underground to an entire subterranean civilization comprised of other unfortunates.  Dekker says they live lives just like ours—marrying, reproducing, quarreling, divorcing, working, laughing, eating, etc.—but about 100 feet beneath our feet.

Dekker convinces Adam and his cameraman, Will Barratt (Green’s real life cameraman and collaborator) to join him on nightly visits to “The Marrow”—Dekker’s name for a hole in the ground of a wooded cemetery that serves as one of the monsters’ entrances to their subterranean world.  Dekker claims to see the monsters moving slowly in the shadows, but the crew grows skeptical when even later viewing at high contrast fails to show any creatures lurking in the dark.

Finally, out of frustration and over Dekker’s frantic protests, the crew shines a light where Dekker claims there is a monster.  Sure enough, there’s a split-second shot of a spooky creature.  When sharing the footage with their editor and other filmmakers, however, Adam and Will are met with skepticism.  They soon begin to wonder how much Dekker is putting telling the truth—and what he’s not telling them.

The film is not a conventional horror film—other than the jump scare of the revealed monster, there’s only one other suspenseful scene, where Adam loses a boot while standing close to The Marrow—but it was enthralling.  For one, Dekker is clearly a basket-case, but he presents juuuust enough compelling evidence to keep Adam hooked.  Adam wants to believe Dekker badly, even in the face of mounting resistance from Will and his production company (a minor side plot is that Adam is behind on writing a new season of his show, Holliston, a real show on the short-lived FEARNet streaming service), but soon the old man’s inconsistencies and half-truths become too much to take, even after seeing a monster in the flesh.

The drama that ensues as Adam’s initial elation turns to begrudging skepticism is one of the more interesting ideas in the film.  Adam has allowed himself to get in far deeper with a kook than anyone else, and he begins to wonder if he’s being had—far past the point when most everyone else would have brushed off Dekker.  Dekker for his part conceals certain information from Adam, adding to the increased suspicion, and he is a truly odd man (in one scene, he puts on a strange, old-timey record, stating it’s his favorite song; when Adam asks who it is, he says he has no idea).  Dekker’s character leaves the audience wondering how reliable he is.

Dekker’s theories about monster society are an interesting twist, too.  The idea of subterranean dwellers is nothing new in weird fiction, but the version Green creates in Digging Up the Marrow brings to mind Jordan Peele’s Us (2019), in which there exists an eerie underground mirror world populated by copies of humans living on the surface.  Dekker argues that most monsters are terrifying to behold, but ultimately just normal people—they just want to be left alone.  However, he notes that just like the human population, there are some deviants, those that are evil.  He tells the story of Brella, a monster that hides her deformities with an umbrella, and who possibly led a fraternity boy to a grisly death.

That’s an intriguing idea:  maybe the scary, violent monsters are just monster equivalents of human serial killers, who might look normal but are, indeed, monstrous themselves.  That opens up the possibility for all types of world-building.

Regardless, I really enjoyed this film, and found myself sucked into the mystery.  Green really develops the story and tension well, even if his character (an exaggerated version of himself) is remarkably gullible and petulant.  Indeed, Green-as-Adam gets annoying, in part because of his constant whining about monsters.  He is so credulous that it threatens to suspend disbelief—in a monster movie!  Even a true believer would be more critical and analytical than Adam in Digging Up the Marrow.

There is an implied twist in the story that, while never explicitly revealed, hits about halfway through the film.  It’s one of those realizations that suddenly dawned on me; smarter viewers will guess at it sooner, while others might miss it entirely.  Watch the film yourself and see if you catch it.

All in all, there were worse ways I could have spent a drowsy Sunday night after a long drive.  It wasn’t a perfect film, but in terms of originality and creativity, Digging Up the Marrow was one of the more imaginative movies I’ve seen in some time.  In an age of cookie-cutter storylines and predictable plot points, that’s huge.

Happy Viewing!

—TPP

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