Released Apr. 13, 2018
Rated R – 1hr 50min
Directed by Sergio G. Sánchez
Starring George MacKay, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Mia Goth
Four siblings must hide the death of their mother if they wish to remain together. Before her passing, they had fled England for her childhood farmhouse in America, attempting to escape the stain the father’s criminality had left on their name. They must keep their secrets until the eldest Jack (MacKay) turns 21, but with months still remaining, the outside world is closing in while a sinister presence pervading the home is trying to get out.
Not so much horror as it is a family drama-mystery set in the 1960s with some horror elements sprinkled throughout. Until suddenly, it’s not. Marrowbone unfolds its narrative in a very deceptive way to where it’s fair to say that nothing is quite as it seems.
The movie uses what might be my least favorite plot device – hiding information from the audience in an effort to create mystery, and that’s a very specific gripe that could probably use some more explanation. In a typical mystery, you have a focal character or characters that you follow – there wouldn’t be much of a story if you didn’t. So frequently, whatever is unknown to them is likewise unknown to you, the viewer. That’s how the mystery element is naturally created – when these characters encounter things they cannot explain and must gradually uncover information to get to the cause of those things. That’s all seems pretty self-explanatory. However, when a movie jumps forward six months in the middle of a pivotal scene, leaving you in the dark as to what happened and then treating the revelation of those events as mystery, that just seems cheap. I refer to it as ‘manufactured mystery’, and it bothers the hell out of me. However, as I was about to write it off halfway through its runtime, Marrowbone pulled me back in and ultimately led me to forgive it for employing this pet peeve of mine, and that goes a long way toward shaping my opinion of this film.
Putting the story elements aside for a moment, I’d like to address the vibe that this movie has – the key word would be ‘understated’. The acting is excellent, but generally low-key. All the roles are very well played and, in particular, the dynamic of the four siblings feels very natural, which is good, considering that their relationship is the lynchpin of the whole operation here. The distress they experience at the threat of being separated permeates throughout much of the film, and it comes across as genuine. The direction is stylish, yet never obvious. Longtime screenwriter Sánchez, with his feature debut, takes a more minimalist approach, letting images speak for themselves through careful framing rather than artistic flair. The cinematography is beautiful, yet never flashy. Everything looks crisp, but with the slightest washed-out touch that sells the vintage setting of the story. Also, it’s bright and sunny throughout much of Marrowbone, serving a sharp contrast to what is going on underneath. This much restraint shows a lot of confidence on the part of the filmmakers and could have easily resulted in a dull experience in the hands of lesser talent.
Now, back to that wonky story structure. It still irks me that the movie needs to be so manipulative by design to give itself a reason to exist. Yet, Marrowbone becomes a completely different beast without that flash-forward conceit – it needs that gradual unfolding of details to be the thing that it wants to be and to explore the things that it wants to explore. Since I ultimately appreciated what that thing was, it earns a pass, but it wasn’t all roses. As I mentioned, the halfway mark is pivotal for this film because, as it reaches that point, it is an absolutely jumbled mess of plot points with few, if any, lines to connect them. It just keeps heaping them on while moving the timeline forward, but seeming to do little else but drag the pace to a crawl. However, the payoff is there, and it all comes together…provided you’re down with its climactic revelations. It’s a polarizing moment, and if you’re on the ‘hate’ side of the fence, Marrowbone will be two hours of your life gone. If not, it’s a very effective American gothic creeper.
I could certainly recommend this film on its strengths as a darkish family drama with notes of a suspense thriller throughout, but I’m grading horror movies here, and this sells itself as one. Not as horror, I’d go as high as a B+. However…
Marrowbone gets a