Digging Up the Marrow finds director Adam Green in a particularly self-reflexive mood, as the noted horror schlockmeister tucks a critical analysis of his own art within an innocuous genre exercise. Green uses the generally puerile question of whether monsters are indeed real or not as the basis of his mockumentary investigation into the claims of a mysterious loner, William Dekker (Ray Wise), who insists that he knows where to find the kind of supernatural creatures that seemingly exist solely in the imagination. This narrative thread, which ultimately becomes the shopworn horror story that Green purports to upend with plenty of self-aware snark, largely dominates the film and proves to be its least rewarding aspect—especially in light of Green’s occasional tendency to ponder the effects that his and Dekker’s discoveries have on his filmmaking.
Green takes a surprisingly honest approach to how he would react to the possibility that his most wild fantasies are, if Dekker is to be believed, in fact real. Because Green has built his career around the horror genre, Dekker’s insistence that a gateway of sorts to a monster lair, mostly housing benevolent creatures, is located in the California woods causes Green to question whether his work is nothing if not trivial. This sounds silly, sure, but to a fervent admirer of the genre like Green, the idea that beings akin to his interests actually exist is at once a fascinating and intimidating thought. Since Green has built a reputation creating antagonizing horror-film characters, his lifelong perceptions would therefore be thrown in doubt.
Unfortunately, that’s as complex as Green gets, as his adoration for the macabre proves to be so immense that he’d rather fulfill the tepid monster freak-out that the film had hinted at instead of resolving his conflicted artist persona. Aside from Green and Dekker, each person is presented as an eye-rolling skeptic, if only to make the two main subjects seem more interesting as they continually prove everyone wrong with their discovery of the monsters. The low point of this occurs when Green mansplains to one such skeptic, his wife, about how he’s intrigued by Dekker, which leads to the dubious implication that horror stories are an exclusively male interest. And once the film’s focus eventually shifts to the mysterious nature of Dekker’s history, culminating in a lazily contrived climax, each successively redundant and cheap jump scare that follows remains just that. Since these hardly carry the same emotional or artistic consequences expressed in the film before, Green reminds us that he’s all to eager to go for the easy thrill.