Written and directed by Sergio G. Sánchez.
Starring George MacKay, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Mia Goth, Matthew Stagg, Kyle Soller and Tom Fisher.
A family who have concealed the death of their mother so they can stay together find themselves plagued by noisy spirits who seem to represent the spectre of their evil father.
There might not be a corner of horror cinema as ripe for allegory as the ghost story. From the classics of The Haunting to more modern fare like Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak, the cinematic ghost story is often about everything other than the ghosts themselves. That’s certainly true in the case of Marrowbone, which is a rich and intense horror movie that is set in the 1960s, but feels much older by virtue of the Gothic house in which its action unfolds.
Written and directed by Sergio G. Sánchez, who wrote powerful tsunami drama The Impossible for J.A. Bayona a few years ago, Marrowbone is a story that’s about family more than anything else. It follows four children, of varying ages, who continue to live together in a secluded home after the death of their mother, determined to keep her death secret until the oldest son Jack (George MacKay) turns 21 and is legally allowed to take care of his siblings. The family fled their home in England years ago in order to escape the children’s father (Tom Fisher), who was abusive, violent and is hinted to have been capable of much more.
The children almost immediately make friends with local girl Allie (Anya Taylor-Joy) and their life is fairly comfortable, until the point that a bullet fractures the upstairs window, signifying the fact their father has unearthed their hiding place. At that point, we flash forward six months and all of the kids are still alive, with no sign of their father. It isn’t until a local lawyer (Kyle Soller) starts sniffing around that their secrets begin to unravel, just as restless spirits begin to plague the home.
Much like his fellow Spaniard Alejandro Amenábar with The Others, Sánchez allows the story of Marrowbone to build methodically and with great patience. The Others is the most obvious touchstone and comparison point and, while Sánchez doesn’t come close to that level of artistry, his film showcases a real mastery of tone.
With that said, it’s perhaps a little too slow in its early stages, which might cause the movie to suffer for the most gore-loving and jump-hungry of horror fans, but there is plenty for those fans to latch on to, as Marrowbone does boast its fair share of well-crafted horror sequences. The unusual mix of Gothic and modern is present and correct in these scenes, with a record player blasting out ‘Wouldn’t it Be Nice?’ by The Beach Boys during a particularly intense ghostly confrontation. Sánchez spreads these set pieces out throughout the first half of the movie, before allowing the narrative to take over the tension in the final act.
The languorous plotting allows the audience to spend plenty of time with the characters. Some are short-changed, such as Stranger Things actor Charlie Heaton and Anya Taylor-Joy – the most reliably solid performer in genre cinema today – who gets little to do outside of making goo-goo eyes at George MacKay.
MacKay himself, though, is able to spread his wings in a demanding, complicated role as the young patriarch of the new family unit, protecting his youngest brother from the mirrors in the house, which often hide spirits seeking to cause mischief and provoke guilt about the family’s dark past. Mia Goth also gets plenty to do as a girl terrified by what happened in her family and keen to keep the trauma and scars hidden.
When the story does get moving at the halfway mark, it’s with a cavalcade of narrative revelations that tumble into play one after the other. Sánchez occasionally loses his grip on the various narrative threads that twist, tumble and fray around the characters, but MacKay’s performance is strong enough to provide a solid fulcrum at the centre of it all.
Marrowbone is a little rough around the edges, but it’s an efficiently creepy ghost story with more than a few twists lurking up its spectral sleeve.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★★ / Movie: ★★★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.