Director: Sergio G. Sánchez
Writer: Sergio G. Sánchez
Stars: George MacKay, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton
I’ve developed a bad habit of watching films recently that have been shoehorned into the horror genre for what I presume to be a money making exercise. Of course, they end up having a few scenes or elements to justify said shoehorning, but are really something else entirely. That’s exactly what has happened with Sergio G. Sánchez’s Marrowbone. It’s classed as a horror, but is really a psychological drama, with around three, mostly poor jump scares, added in to merit being considered one.
I know Sánchez more for his writing on JA Bayona’s ‘The Orphanage’, he’s a very talented guy in that department and if there’s any gripes to be had with this film then it most definitely isn’t in the writing or the dialogue. This is his first non-foreign language, feature length film and I can only presume it had some bother getting a distribution deal, with production finishing back in 2017, it being given a simplistic name change over here and only now earning a wide theatrical release.
It’s about a young, orphaned, sibling quartet, who hide the death of their mother to stay together in her old, isolated and rather rickety looking, childhood farmhouse. Their father was a bit of an abusive, psycho and at the beginning his whereabouts are unknown. We have Jack (George MacKay), Billy (Charlie Heaton), Jane (Mia Goth) and Sam (Matthew Stagg). Jack is very much playing the role of the mature father figure and also has a blooming romance with Allie (Anya Taylor-Joy), the Marrowbones closest neighbour and the towns librarian.
It’s a predominately slow burn affair for nearly the entirety of the running time, following the young quartet as they deal with bangs in the attic and a bizarre, OCD like, obsession with covering every mirror in the house. Sánchez frequently has the young inhabitants interact with gaping cracks in the ceiling, for telegraphed, jump scare opportunities and just to let you know, in case you hadn’t figured it out already, that there’s something sinister occupying that bricked up space.
There’s other things at play too though, the aforementioned romance between Allie and Jack, that comes in sporadic bursts and helps to lighten the oppressive tone that permeates the family home. Then you’ve got the bank manager, Tom (Kyle Soller), nefariously sneaking around trying his best to extort the Marrowbones for a rumoured fortune and generally creeping on Allie. Tom is an oddity of a man, arguably the biggest in the film, which is some doing amongst a film peppered with neurotic oddities. Finally, you’ve got the brewing confrontation between Jack and Billy, presumably brought on by a desire to deal with the attic situation.
Sánchez is a gifted writer as I did say and it shows here. He explores some important themes quite intelligently, whilst slowly drip feeding the audience the truth behind Jack’s hesitancy, apparent blackouts and the mysterious guest upstairs. He does this through a series of recurring flashbacks, each delving further and revealing more of the puzzle and what a tragic puzzle it’s revealed to be. The attic twist at the end caught me off guard too, I can’t deny it.
Why? Well, because there’s never a solid indication one way or another as to whether the presence, bumping around upstairs and causing palpable apprehension is a genuine living person or a malevolent spirit, until the twist that is. I’ve seen people criticise this film, be it the storytelling or the dialogue. I’m perplexed by the whole thing. I enjoyed that sense of ambiguity surrounding the projected reality of Jack. He’s one of three characters within Marrowbone that become the audiences perspective and I thought Sánchez utilised all of them well to reveal the heartbreaking truth.
On the contrary, I found the film to be intelligently crafted, written and visually decent. I particularly liked the moment when Jack and Allie are communicating with a morse code, light system between the two houses and the wide beach shot was stunning.
It’s not going to be getting nominated come award season, because it isn’t good enough, though if it were, then George MacKay would be the most deserving. He’s a supremely talented chap and he’s amazing as the most conflicted and emotionally multilayered man in the entire film. This is a character driven film and the performances were the highlight for me. Anya Taylor Joy is another favourite of mine, I enjoyed her in the ‘The Witch’ and she was decent here too. Charlie Heaton rounded up the notable performances from me.
In the end, it’s not the best ‘horror’ film I’ve seen this year, but it has a surprisingly enjoyable story, one brillIant performance, two decent ones and it explores the important themes of grief, mental health and the dangers of locking yourself away instead of seeking help. I enjoyed the bizarre concoction of a 60s, US, period piece intermingling with the almost Shining-esque, Kubrick distortion of the surrounding, dense woodland setting that abruptly hits an improbably close, rocky shore line. I thought it was a decent, little psychological drama in the main.
It does strike me as a potential marmite release however, in that some audience members won’t tolerate the slow burn nature and drip feed of information. I did, but I’m maybe a rarity in that case.