Review: The Secret of Marrowbone

Written and directed by Sergio G. Sánchez, a young man and his three younger siblings, who have kept secret the death of their beloved mother in order to remain together, are plagued by a sinister presence in the sprawling manor in which they live. Starring: George MacKay, Charlie Heaton, Mia Goth, Anya Taylor Joy, Matthew Stagg, Nicola Harrison, Kyle Soller and Tom Fisher.

This film opens with only a tinge of the darkness that is to come, it instead focuses on getting to know its titular family, and it’s safe to say they put together a talented bunch of young actors to portray them. Once their mother passes, Jack (MacKay) is left to take care of his siblings, fulfilling the stalwart, resourceful and steadfast older brother to little Sam (Staggs), kind and maternal Jane (Goth) and the ever-angry Billy (Heaton). However, there’s a beam of light in their lives in the form of their one and only connection to the outside world, Allie (Joy), other than being caring and creative, there unfortunately isn’t much to learn about her, none of the films 110-minutes are dedicated to her backstory or family. Much like traditional horrors, it accepts the darkness but perfectly sets up a sweet, relatively happy family before it throws them into turmoil.

The family find themselves being haunted by a presence in their home, having covered all the mirrors and created a mini-fortress to hide within, they persistently live with this sinister spirit, unable to leave for the risk of being separated by social services. The acting in this film is easily discussed because there’s no weak link, even the youngest of them does a brilliant job and fights pretty hard for title of the most compelling character. Pairing MacKay and Joy was a great piece of casting, they have a solid chemistry and their acting skills compliment each other but it’s a shame that Joy’s character Allie feels more like a plot device, she’s given real no depth or personality other than her feelings for Jack. Goth and Heaton do a perfect job of feeling like two sides of the same coin, they have the same values but while the former is kind and gentle, the latter is brash and incensed. Soller also gets a decent amount of screen time, interfering with the family’s peculiar harmony because of his petty jealousy, it’s a very convincing performance as you’ll quickly come to dislike him and adds a spoonful of danger to an already fearful story.

There’s a great amount of suspense and fear built quite quickly, their entire story isn’t revealed immediately, instead the viewers are allowed to use their own imagination to fill in the gaps, and by doing so it creates a very strong atmosphere. The way that they handle the family gives you a lot of relatable moments and a desire to protect them from the dangers that befall them. However, the supernatural elements that the film surrounds in its earlier stages don’t come to fruition, they’re given disappointing explanations that move the film more into crime-thriller territory and undercuts the earlier horror style. There can be value in taking a mysterious story and resolving it in a more realistic fashion but that isn’t the case here, it feels too easy and as if it just lacked the imagination to come up with something more ethereal. The directorial style, cinematography and score all work incredibly well together but when that helps to build the atmosphere that it then abandons in its latter moments, it’s not strong enough to see it through.

With the initial tension and curiosity that this film built, it had the potential to be something great but as is too often the case, it bailed on a more mysterious story to fall back on the physical realm and clichéd dramatics that use far too much of deus ex machina. In the end it’s a shame to waste such talented actors on a film with clumsy focus on twists and shock factor to try and pander to its audience. It starts off very well then falls into trying too hard to surprise its viewers instead of making use of the fantastic acting power of MacKay, Goth, Heaton and Joy to bring something memorable to the table.

Verdict: ✯✯½ 

Available on Amazon Prime Video now

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