Two of this week’s limited releases tell their stories in documentary form, but while neither of them seem all that believable only one of them is faking it.
Kung Fu Elliot follows Canada’s self-appointed action star as he and his motley crew attempt to finish his third feature film, but the man’s ambition and energy are dwarfed by a surprising reality. Digging Up the Marrow meanwhile follows horror director Adam Green as he meets a fan who claims to have proof of monsters in the real world.
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Elliot Scott is an action star, and he wants the world to know it. He started small with self-made, no-budget features – They Killed My Cat being a prescient precursor to the likes of John Wick – and he’s nearing completion on his biggest film yet, Blood Fight. It’s still a zero budget affair featuring his long-suffering girlfriend Linda Lum and a pair of acquaintances, all of whom do double duty both in front of and behind the camera, and it’s been in production for nearly two years. He’s relentless with his self-promotion whether it be hawking his DVDs on street corners or offering free photo ops on the Great Wall of China with “the Canadian Jackie Chan.”
On paper at least he seems capable of action stardom. He’s had an interesting life including a near death experience as a child, a deceased wife and real world interactions with violent criminals. His past films have won festival awards, and he himself is a decorated kick boxer with multiple titles including Canadian Full Contact Karate Champion from ’98 to ‘99.
Scott first captured the attention of filmmakers Matthew Bauckman and Jaret Belliveau when his latest production was featured in local media identifying his past accomplishments and future goals, but the documentary subject they pictured isn’t quite what they found. Out of shape and incapable of anything but the most basic martial arts moves, Scott looks nothing like an action hero. His films look even less capable of winning awards, and it soon appears likely that while his passion is visible and omnipresent he lacks even the most basic talents to make his dreams come true.
But that’s really just the first layer in this onion of a man as the film moves from his filmmaking efforts to his personal life with Lum. She may just be the most desperately patient woman in all of North America as she waits for a ring and a proposal while essentially funding his life and his passions, but as a clearer picture of the eternally muddled Scott comes into view everything begins to change.
There are moments in the third act that might test the trust of viewers suspecting a staged interaction or line reading, but by all accounts what we see is real. It’s easy to question as Scott and his cohorts are at times too ridiculously bad at what they do, but their sincerity is on equal display.
Scott shifts in our perception as he shifts in the eyes of Lum and the filmmakers, and suddenly a story about an underdog with a dream becomes a tale about the lies we tell ourselves and others while in pursuit of those dreams. Kung Fu Elliot is a must watch for anyone who’s ever trusted a Canadian, but those who love fascinating glimpses into human behavior will want to check it out as well.
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Adam Green is no stranger to things that go bump in the night. As the creator of the Hatchet trilogy and the ski-lift thriller Frozen he’s made a career out of capturing nightmares on film. He’s always wanted to believe that monsters are real, but as an adult with a brain he’s had to settle with simply making them realistic in his movies. But when he receives a letter from someone claiming to have evidence of just that – monsters roaming free in the real world – Green excitedly but cautiously explores the man’s claims.
Digging Up the Marrow is presented in documentary format, but it really makes little to no effort to pretend it’s real. Some faux-docs in the genre will go that extra mile – no credits, no score, no recognizable faces – but Green, who writes and directs here, is more interested in entertaining viewers than in trying to fool them. The film is filled with appearances by genre talents as diverse as Don Coscarelli, Kane Hodder and Mick Garris – all playing themselves – but the most recognizable mug on display here is the one playing the possibly deranged William Dekker (Ray Wise).
It seems Dekker has discovered places in the Earth where the deformed abominations of our species retreat, and one of them happens to be in a nearby cemetery. The “creatures” only come out at night so Dekker, Green and cinematographer Will Barratt head out in the hopes of glimpsing a bipedal nightmare. They find more than they expected, but that doesn’t mean they know what they found.
The film makes one of the big faux-doc/found footage errors early and consistently. Basically, while it’s supposed to be camera footage from someone actually experiencing these events – ie someone who’s actually seeing incredible things and is possibly in danger – the film is instead shot like a film. We get reaction shots of our “cast” when we know someone in this real situation would be filming the action (or not filming at all).
But while that would hurt a more serious fake documentary here it’s simply part of the fun. And the movie is fun thanks to the combined talents and sincerity of Green and Wise.
Green isn’t much of an actor, but he’s an enthusiastic bastard whose giddiness at the prospect of having seen an honest to god monster with his own eyes is surprisingly infectious. Even as he struggles to convince his co-workers and friends, and even as we know this is just a movie, his excitement leaves us wide-eyed and ready to head back out to the cemetery.
Wise meanwhile is as fantastic as expected and shows off the same wild glint in his eyes that made his turn on Twin Peaks so damn memorable three decades ago. He can turn from playful to menacing lightning quick, and that uncertainty makes for a thrilling guide in the darkness.
Digging Up the Marrow is slight fun to be sure, but it is fun. It’s a quick watch made by and for people entertained by all things monstrous, and that spirit combined with some fresh creature effects make for a creepily amusing good time.