Studio: Magnet Releasing
Director: Sergio G. Sanchez
Writer: Sergio G. Sanchez
Producer: Belen Atienza, Alvaro Augustin, Ghislain Barrois
Stars: George MacKay, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Mia Goth, Matthew Stagg, Kyle Soller, Nicola Harrison, Tom Fisher, Paul Jesson, Myra Kathryn Pearse
Four siblings attempting to hide from the world remain haunted by a terrible secret in their family’s troubled past.
Desperate to escape the shadow of a “he” immediately presumed to be an abusive husband/father, Rose flees England with her family in search of a new life of anonymity. She and her children Jack, Jane, Billy, and Sam, find it by changing their name to Marrowbone while hiding in Rose’s childhood home in remote American countryside.
Their plan for staying safe is simple. With Rose on her deathbed, Jack must keep his siblings living in secret until he turns 21. Complicating matters somewhat is a budding romance between Jack and a girl named Allie, who lives on a nearby farm. Complicating things even further is the unexpected arrival of the aforementioned “he,” who shows up after Rose’s death to fire a rifle shot through a window.
“Marrowbone” immediately fast forwards six months. There’s no indication how the conflict with the shooter was resolved, but the fresh scar on Jack’s forehead provides a big clue about blanks to be filled in later. Jack, Jane, Billy, and Sam are close to fulfilling their family pact. Only two obstacles stand in their way. One is a troublesome business agent, whose eyes for Allie are a secondary concern to his suspicions regarding Marrowbone family secrets. The other involves odd noises in the attic and shrouds over every mirror, which purportedly protect the children from a ghost.
If not for a calendar identifying the year as 1969, and the vaguely mentioned location of rural America, one might swear “Marrowbone” was set in early 20thcentury England. It isn’t just the accents of the British-born core cast either.
Maybe the Spanish production lost something in translation while establishing its era via costumes, props, and sets. The watercolor illustration of the family arriving by steamship, Sam’s newsboy cap, and having Jack bike into town to buy groceries from a general store all suggest a setting other than the same summer when hippies descended on Woodstock and the Manson Family murdered Sharon Tate. It’s an unusual potpourri of seemingly anachronistic inclusions establishing a visually indeterminate time and place.
“Marrowbone” also fashions its atmosphere like an Oscar-bait period piece. The slow story develops with the patient speed of a Merchant Ivory melodrama, echoing the soap opera strings of a contemporary Bronte novel in film form. With its romanticized panoramas, orchestral score, and scenes of young lovers kissing on a windswept beach, “Marrowbone” feels like a motion picture made for your mother’s book club to mull over with a glass of rosé and charcuterie spread.
That is, until corpse hands start lurching from the attic and white sheets rise into ghostly figures. Elements of horror contribute to “Marrowbone’s” shape, though it is the family drama that distinctly defines it. Scenes of suspense come from mostly low risk setups such as rushing to forge a signature before the wrong person sees or slowly creeping toward strange sounds. “Marrowbone’s” plot qualifies it as a thriller, but the film’s focus on stoking sadness built through sibling interactions largely disqualifies it as “thrilling.”
A non-provocative first hour and change finally increases energy for a moderately engaging finale, making the long slog to get there partially worth the price paid with disinterest. The new trouble encountered lies in the fact that the first of two climactic revelations has featured in so many films before, it’s no longer a “twist.” It’s a fully telegraphed expectation that even this movie’s careful editing can’t keep hidden for long.
Redeeming “Marrowbone’s” redundancy somewhat are several nice yet unexceptional performances from a few familiar faces. George MacKay of “11/22/63” ably anchors the four siblings while Charlie Heaton (“Stranger Things”), Mia Goth (“A Cure for Wellness” - review here), and Matthew Stagg flesh out familial bonds in their limited minutes. Anya Taylor-Joy of “The Witch” (review here) and “Split” (review here) also doesn’t appear often. But when she does, her presence pulls eyes onto the screen instead of to the clock to wonder how much more “Marrowbone” remains before end credits.
Appreciators of gothic-style chillers where wardrobe and romance take center stage, “The Lodgers” (review here) being an example springing immediately to mind, may warm to “Marrowbone’s” room temperature tone of subdued spooks and subtle moods. Stylishly staged cinematography certainly has the capacity to cast such a spell. Those angling for a fuller-bodied experience with more imaginative plot turns may find themselves asleep before the movie ever gets that that chance.
NOTE: “Marrowbone” is alternately titled “The Secret of Marrowbone.”
Review Score: 55