The Secret of Marrowbone Review
Sergio G. Sánchez - best known for writing J.A. Bayona's The Orphanage (2007) and The Impossible (2012) - tries his hand at writing and directing with horror The Secret of Marrowbone. Set in the late 60s, and starring George MacKay and Anya Taylor-Joy, the film focusses on an English family on the run from their abusive father. The mother and her four children relocate to America, in the hopes of starting a new life, calling themselves the Marrowbones.
The family is able to settle with eldest sibling Jack (MacKay) even falling for librarian Allie (Taylor-Joy), when their mother (Nicola Harrison) is suddenly taken ill and passes away. Knowing they would be separated due to their age, the four siblings, Billy, Jane and Sam (Charlie Heaton, Mia Goth and Matthew Stagg respectively) remove themselves from society until Jake turns 21. By this point things become a little muddled, there doesn’t appear to be any clear direction and the fact that anything could occur from this point has a certain charm. Was the house haunted by a demon? Will one of the children become a secret axe murderer? Until one day, their father finds them, and six months later, the story really begins.
The Secret of Marrowbone is a different style of horror; it continually keeps you guessing while keeping engagement and intensity high. The dialogue is clever, constantly misdirecting the audience, allowing the story to remain fresh and the payoffs worthwhile. Tricking the audience into believing one narrative only to switch things when you least expect it is occasionally dangerous and no doubt this will prove divisive to some personally I felt it worked.
The characters were well written and performed by the cast, made up of young British actors, unrecognisable to some. This choice helps to build on the tension while still fearing the unknown; a huge name could have potentially ruined this atmosphere (I'm thinking of Matt Damon's cameo in Unsane). The 'villain' was superb, having zero lines of dialogue and getting straight to the point increased the fear factor as you never have a second to guess what’s coming, a sort of homage to old school slasher movies like Halloween and Friday the 13th.
As a whole, the film's design is great and gives an immediate sense of where you are. The house, although creaky and clichéd, looks the part and stands out as its own character. The cinematography is outstanding, the wide-shots of the beach, the woods and meadows stunning, and, additionally, the score matched the settings perfectly. That said, it is not without flaws: the pacing is incredibly slow, the plot, although thought provoking, takes far too long to reveal anything, regardless of its importance. This causes an overcrowded climax, containing a lot of information in order to tie up the loose ends and, because of this detail, minor plot holes appear huge.
The trailer would have you believe this to be a standard horror, heavily reliant on jump scares and unoriginal imagery which couldn’t be further from the truth. There are some obvious scares, however, so much more goes into the bulk of this film - more attention is put on the story, misdirection and mystery than actual scares. If you’re happy to sit through an awful lot of foreshadowing for an epic denouement, feeling incredibly tense and intriguingly confused, then The Secret of Marrowbone comes highly recommended. By no means is it perfect but is it highly enjoyable.