If making a film from a checklist standpoint, Marrowbone would be atop many “must watch” list. It features a supporting role from Anya Taylor-Joy (The VVitch, Thoroughbreds), arguably one of the most sought after recent genre actresses. One of the leads, Charlie Heaton, is now a household name thanks to his part in Stranger Things. Lastly, it’s the feature directorial debut of Sergio G. Sanchez, writer of The Orphanage and The Impossible. That’s likely enough to get a few butts in seats, even if the end results leave much to be desired.
In 1969, a family of four children and their ailing mother travel from England to coastal America to take up residence in the mother’s childhood home. Why they made the journey matters not, as she draws a line on the staircase stating, “once we cross this line, the past is gone, Our lives start anew.” Yet as anyone who has seen a horror film is sure to guess, the past has a way of catching up with those who run from it.
Shortly after the passing of their mother, whose health took a toll in the move, the children try to make the best of their new life. They befriend their neighbor Allie (Taylor-Joy), who helps keep up the secret of them living in Marrowbone Manor, until eldest brother Jack (George McKay) can inherit it when he turns 21. Then one day a monster arrives at their house, throwing everything into chaos.
After that fateful day, Marrowbone jumps six months into the future. The family seems to be getting on decently, each filling a necessary role. Middle brother Billy (Heaton) hunts for sustenance during the day, standing guard at night. Sister Jane (Mia Goth) plays surrogate mother, as well as bakes cakes which help provide a meager income. Jack falls into the spot of leader, merely by virtue of being the oldest. His part is essential though, as the only one allowed to head to town for supplies. At the same time keeping up the appearance that their mother is still alive, albeit in poor health.
That leaves youngest sibling Sam (Matthew Stagg) to wander the wander the grounds, not every inch out the house though, as the stairs leading to the attic are mysteriously bricked up. Strangely every mirror too has been covered up, possibly to scare away the ghost that supposedly haunts the halls. While the family is a cheery enough unit, their dark house stands in stark contrast to the picturesque seaside surrounding it. Cinematographer Xavi Gimenez and production designer Patrick Salvador deserve heaps of credit, for their contributions are largely the best parts of Marrowbone.
While no spoilers follow, it can’t be stressed how much Marrowbone hinges upon the climax and resolution. Just as most films with a central mystery should. Keen viewers will likely be able to piece together the puzzle, long before the end draws near. Doing so, though, exposes how flimsy the rest of the picture is. The problem lies in how the film goes about juggling an unnecessary number of subplots which amount to nothing. Exposing itself as more a house of cards, than the sturdy structure it originally appears to be. Which is a shame, given how beautifully rendered the majority of the film is.
Interestingly Marrowbone dredges up the age old question concerning relationship that exists between a writer and director. Sanchez gained notoriety mostly by hitching his boat to the a couple films by J.A. Bayona. The films they’ve made in each others absence paint a better picture of their respective talents. Bayona scored last year with his own rumination on grief, family and monsters in A Monster Calls, a win he was able to use as springboard onto the next Jurassic Park installment. Sanchez, on the other hand, shows he has a good eye and knack for set ups. His execution and endings, meanwhile, leave much to be desired. It’ll be rather telling if in his next go behind the camera he opts to work with a writer besides himself.
Nothing is more infuriating than killing a few hours with a technically well crafted bad film, the kind that bends over backwards in hope that you like it. All the while, it smiles giddily as it tries to pull the rug out from under your feet, as you long for the credits. The twists are telegraphed from miles away & what the film believes to be a sweet ending, is in really both slightly disturbing and insulting. Sadly, that’s the best way to describe Marrowbone. For all its Gothic horror trappings and beautiful production design, it’s likely to live out it’s life forgotten at the bottom of the bargain bin.