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Marrowbone (2018) Movie Review By John Walsh

Marrowbone Review

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.  

Rating: 3/5

Shut In (2016) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin



Director: Farren Blackburn
Writer: Christina Hodson
Stars: Naomi Watts,  Charlie Heaton,  Jacob Tremblay, Oliver Platt

Shut In is a movie that could have gone down the road of The Shining or What Lies Beneath but instead unintentionally goes down the Dumb and Dumber Too beaten track.

Now hold on, I’m not suggesting for a moment that the movie is an absolute hoot (although there are movie critics that would say the Farrelly Brothers long awaited sequel was hardly that anyway) but bare with me…..

The movie begins with an arial shot of the forresty landscape with the token house planted right in the middle of the area. This lets us know right away that at some point or another our characters are going to be isolated. Standing outside her door looking into the parked car is Mary (Naomi Watts) whilst her husband is packing in the back of the car, their son looks back at her angrily, disappointed, frustrated and angry again. In fact I’m sure one of those emotions are in there, it’s just that hard to tell with Stephen (Charlie Heaton) practically looking like this the whole time he’s in the movie.

Stephen is being carted off to boarding school having just been expelled from his previous school and the parents have had enough of his behaviour and convince themselves it would be best all round for him to leave. To be fair, Watts’ character does show signs of guilt and sorrow as her son is leaving and this is down to great acting on her part. As Stephen and his Dad are traveling down the road, he asks why he has to go and before we know it both of them are having a heavy debate whilst the car is traveling at a great speed. I feel the next sentence really shouldn’t be typed as I know, you know and everybody SHOULD know what happens next….. okay for anyone out there who may not see where this is going the car collides with an oncoming vehicle and the screen goes black.

We’re now 6 months later after those events and that isolated house out there in the woods is now covered thick in snow and at this point we don’t know if the father or son survived as we see Mary waking up and going downstairs for a cup of tea. The surrounding are quiet and empty leading us to believe for a moment that both of them died from the car accident. As I said, just for a moment until we discover tragically Stephen lying in his bed no longer able to mentally function and Mary looking after him now.

As the scenes unfold on what her daily life now involves we also discover that Mary is a  child psychologist and her office is basically the wooden lodge next to her house where she councils her patients whilst nipping back and forth to make sure her son (who we now discover is actually her stepson) is comfortable. We are introduced to a small boy Mary is counselling, who has behavioural and communication problems but who Mary is fond of disappears from her house, in the freezing cold winter in Maine.

With Mary now juggling looking after her stepson and helping looking for the missing boy, things start becoming a little weird in her household. Her confidant is Dr. Wilson played by the brilliant Oliver Platt who is in most of the key scenes in the movie who in turn is counselling Mary via Skype on night terrors she is experiencing. Dr. Wilson having checked a blood sample a few days later comes back with alarming results indicating Mary has been using non prescribed drugs and worse still taking Stephen’s dosage which he regards as putting both their lives at risk. Naturally Mary defends her corner denying taking anything for her night terrors and this is where she walks away from Dr. Wilson whilst on Skype. The Doctor not wanting the discussion to end so abruptly calls out for her at his end and is shocked when he sees a figure moving across the screen quickly that has a similar silhouette to her Stepson Stephen.

Now up to this point the movie was interesting, but only just, as I felt up to this point the writing and acting was very predictable and the movie was using every suspense and horror cliché going but the moment that figure appeared on the screen which was supposed to be a natural shock to the system came across to me as the point where the movie “Jumped the Shark” This then opened up a new debate…..did Stephen just pull a Lloyd Christmas on us? Was he really pretending to be in a vegetable state for SIX MONTHS? Did he defy and con medical professionals with neurological expertise into believing his brain was barely functioning? The answer to all these questions was a big fat YES.

The reason? Stephen didn’t want to share his stepmom with anyone else. Especially the little boy he kept locked up in the basement. OH COME ON. *sigh*

Shut In to be honest had little substance with a very under developed plot that made no sense at times and other times wasn’t consistent with its writing. The third act appeared lazy and predictable where this was heading and a particular scene when Mary is trying to escape with the young boy through a skylight that she smashes (and grabs the attention of mad Stephen who is searching for both of them from top to bottom) only for her to then inform the young boy they can’t escape that way? What? Why?

You would assume the performances from the established Watts and Platt would have saved this in some fashion but she is doing her best to keep everything above the water, and Platt is there to deliver the predicable exposition. Charlie Heaton as Stephen to be fair plays the role with a creepy intent albeit a little predictable….hold on I’m using that word again. That’s what this movie is though and where it falls flat. You can honestly see the set up of each scene and how it is going to unfold. Throwing in a few dream sequences doesn’t save this movie but just adds to what I can only call a predictable thriller (I’m cringing putting these two words together but that’s exactly how it comes across)

I wasn’t expecting Shut In to be laced with the writing of Stephen King, nor was I expecting it to stand shoulder to shoulder with Kubrick’s The Shining in directorial tones. The movie is a flat piece of disappointment and really is adding another nail in the coffin to a dying genre. If you haven’t watched this, I can’t recommend it. If you have, I am assuming like the character of Stephen we can only hope our state of vegetation isn’t really there and it was just the effect of this movie hopefully wearing off.