Benjamin Wollmuth is a lover of literature who enjoys sharing his thoughts on everything from movies and video games to books and music.
This article contains spoilers for Digging Up the Marrow. You have been warned.
Exploring Found Footage
It is safe to say that the found footage sub-genre of horror has slowly declined in popularity, and while I can't speak for all moviegoers, I can speak for myself: the genre was overused. Me saying this does not mean that I dislike found footage films. Hell, one of my favorite movies of all-time -- Cloverfield -- is a found footage film that does the sub-genre justice. The first two Paranormal Activity movies are not terrible and the first two VHS films are quite enjoyable. Oh, and don't let me forget The Blair Witch Project. However, the sub-genre has been done so much with so many different topics that each movie released feels like a cliche -- a slow build of tension until the last five minutes of climax where, almost every time, the main characters die, hence the footage being "found." While the lead of Digging Up the Marrow does not die (actually, it's left unclear), it still pretty much follows this same structure, but I am going to give this film some credit.
"Digging Up the Marrow"
Digging Up the Marrow is a mockumentary of sorts while also being very self-aware of what it is. It involves actual horror writer and director Adam Green, with him playing himself, as well as much of his crew and other horror writers, directors, and producers. Adam Green is playing himself -- his crew is playing themselves. The only fictional characters within the story are the monsters and Ray Wise's character, William Dekker. This is where the mockumentary comes into play. Dekker has asked Adam Green (and I will admit that I've never seen any his movies besides this one, but I have heard they are pretty average. I'll get to them some time, I promise) to take up a story that Dekker has: monsters are real, and Dekker has seen them. The Marrow is where they live, and the Marrow is below us. What follows is a typical found-footage romp that raises the question of if monsters are real or if Dekker is just crazy.
As I said, the film is very self-aware of what it is -- a found footage film -- and includes cliched dialogue like, "Why are you recording?" "Do you really need to be recording?" We get it. You're making a documentary. We don't need you to remind us. Being self-aware should not be an excuse to be just like every other found footage film, yet Adam Green seems to use it as one. There are interviews, there is a scene where the cameraman really has no need to record (which is found in almost every found footage film), and there are plenty of jump scares. Congratulations, you did nothing new.
Quit Trying So Hard to Jump Scare Me
See that header? That is one of my biggest gripes when it comes to this sub-genre. You don't need jump scares to scare people. Yes, they help in certain occasions. Yes, they scare the pants off of those who are not used to horror. And yes, if executed correctly (as in creating no way to expect it), it can truly better a horror experience. However, when you linger on a shot for a long time and nothing is happening, you expect it. When you start to play suspenseful music while nothing is happening, you expect it. And, in relation to Digging Up the Marrow, when most of the only scary elements of the story are jump scares, you're doing it wrong. In my opinion, lingering on shots where nothing happens is scarier than ending that shot in a cheap jump scare. Jump scares appear to me as a device filmmakers fall towards when they are doubting the horrific atmosphere they are trying to set up. "This film isn't scary enough." "Oh, I know. Add a jump scare!" No. Don't add a jump scare. Just work harder to build the atmosphere.
As with many found footage films, we don't really get an answer to what the hell is actually going on because, well, everyone usually ends up dead. This one is no exception. Here are a few:
1. I'm assuming Dekker ended up in the Marrow in the end, but how the monster with the camera found Green's house is something we will never know.
2. Why was Dekker feeding the monsters? What did he have chained in his basement? The movie hinted at one of the monsters possibly being Dekker's son, but this is never proven and the sub-plot is pretty much forgotten (plus the characters never bring it up again).
3. Is Adam Green alive? Sorry, movie. Your loud jump scare didn't help answer that question.
Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
Yes, the film fails to answer all of its questions, and yes, the film fails to scare me... for the most part. So, this is where I'm gonna put the positives. The final scene of the movie -- while ending in a cliched way -- starts off with an atmosphere that found footage films should strive for the whole way through. Let me set the scene so you see what I mean: a man (actually, a monster) walking with a camera. Heavy breathing. No music. We don't know where the camera is going or what is going to happen. We are stuck helplessly watching this camera move, having no control over where it goes, not knowing where it will end up. That, my friends, is scary. Instead of throwing your audience into a head-over-heals, five-minute climax where shit hits the fan and the camera moves so much that you can't see anything that is going on, move slow -- so slow that it makes the audience anxious. The more anxious the audience gets, the more they start squirming. Once you do that for long enough, a small jump scare is okay to use. But only a small one! The jump scare can't outshine the build-up, because, in reality, the build-up should be the scariest part. Digging Up the Marrow's ending does this beautifully... until the really loud, unnecessary jump scare that was trying really hard to outshine the build-up. Still, it had me anxious.
I would also like to praise the art by Alex Pardee, which inspired many of the creatures we see in the film. They are truly horrifying creations and the make-up effects are grand when we see them up close... so I guess I'll give praise to all of the film's artists and creators. (See that GIF above? That's truly haunting.)
Digging Up the Marrow is nothing new, but it's creature designs and it's ending prove that found footage films can be good if filmmakers really try to be creative and non-cliched. This movie isn't great, and the acting wasn't always all there, but I praise the effects, art, and makeup. I would not watch this film again, but if you are a fan of the found-footage sub-genre of horror, I guess I would recommend it.
I am going to give Digging Up the Marrow a 5.5/10.
© 2020 Benjamin Wollmuth