Marrowbone (2017) REVIEW

Marrowbone movie

The writer of JA Bayona’s acclaimed films The Orphanage and The Impossible, Sergio G. Sanchez, makes his feature directorial debut with Marrowbone, a stylish, period piece horror film.

Marrowbone follows four siblings who left Britain with their ailing mother to her childhood home in America to flee their mysterious and horrific past, changing their surname to Marrowbone, their mother’s maiden name. Soon after their new beginning however, their mother succumbs to her illness, and the four swear to always stick together. They hide their mother’s death, as well as themselves, from the outside world, until oldest sibling Jack (George MacKay) turns 21. They make friends with neighbor Allie (Anya Taylor-Joy), and Jack goes into town once a week, but apart from that, the family remains in self-exile.

Things don’t remain peaceful in the Marrowbone household. Second son Billy (Charlie Heaton) grows tired of being kept in the house, and kid brother Sam (Matthew Stagg) hears a ghost in the middle of the night. Mirrors are covered up or locked away, as they are said to be where the ghost comes from.

One thing that is an immediate plus for the film is how beautiful it looks. Sanchez and cinematographer Xavi Gimenez (who shot the two episodes of Penny Dreadful Bayona directed) have crafted a slick looking film with creative use of light (and darkness). This also contributes to another strength of the film, the genuine gripping tension of its scary scenes. Fans of the horror genre who go into this film for scares will have their fill of jump scares and suspense, but strip away all of its ghostly elements and you’d still get a solid drama.

Young Sam and sister Jane (Mia Goth) provide the likability in the family that grounds the film, as well as acting as the base of the sweetness of the sibling’s relationship. This is further enforced by a strong musical score by Fernando Velazquez, another frequent Bayona collaborator.

The plot of the film is built upon the mysteries it serves up as it moves along, and it sets up revelations and twists along the way. When the film begins to show its hand as it goes on, the feel of the movie does take a hit, as its slow pace turns from a slow-burn to a bit of a drag in the second act. But the web of story elements this movie weaves begins to show a powerful story exploring the themes of grief and the loss of a loved one. The story plays tricks, but it doesn’t cheat itself. The various twists and turns the story are effective enough to unsettle and surprise, but still stays in its own set of rules, and stays true to the heart of the story. The film develops into a heartfelt story exploring.

That being said, the film does rely too much on plot devices to prod the story along, getting characters to do what the story needs them to do. One big example of this is the lawyer character Tom Porter, played excellently by Kyle Soller, who helps the Marrowbones’ move the ownership of their house under the mother’s name, who he doesn’t know is dead. But he is aware of the traumatic events that lead the family to run across the Atlantic. He would go on to be an important supporting character in the unveiling of the film’s secrets, but his integration in the story is feels inorganic, as the character directly causes important plot points to happen without much information to his character and motivations.

Despite this, Marrowbone remains a captivating film, an emotional dramatic story in the guise of a horror film, which works perfectly well as both.

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Marrowbone movie
Despite some storytelling flaws, Marrowbone is a powerfully emotional film laced with chilling horror sequences. Its twist could be divisive, yet remain effective and genuine.