The Secret of Marrowbone Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by Lionsgate International
Written and directed by Sergio G Sanchéz
2017, 110 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
Released in UK cinemas on 13th July 2018
George MacKay as Jack
Anya Taylor-Joy as Allie
Charlie Heaton as Billy
Mia Goth as Jane
Mom's dead, Dad's an abusive, murderous monster who has driven his family into hiding in the woods. Eldest son Jack looks after siblings Billy, Jane and Sam, hoping to stay hidden until he can turn 21 and inherit his mother's family home. A romance with local librarian Allie isn't the only complication though, nor even her jealous lawyer beau – those Marrowbone kids have more secrets than they've had hot dinners. Although, since Mom died, they probably haven't had many of those. It's The VVitch meets Flowers in the Attic, but without all of the incestuous under-and-overtones.
Hot on the trail of the critical and financial horror behemoths A Quiet Place and Hereditary, Sergio G. Sanchez's slow-paced Gothic period piece might turn out to be the most under-appreciated mainstream release of the year. Boasting a classy, talented young cast (including the actual star of The VVItch, Anya Taylor-Joy) haunting aesthetics and an interesting story, it marries Spanish fairytale cinema with classic M.R. James style spookhousing. Producer J.A Bayona's fingertips are all over this one, right next to those of a slightly TV-level Guillermo del Toro.
This slow, sad Enid Blyton/The Railway Children story works, although it will play right into the hands of the “that's not horror” contingent who tend to scoff their way through this sort of thing, while ironically being so scare-less that, honestly, it barely even is in this case. Until, yes, it actually is! Culminating in an excellently creepy scene with a mirror, and the best use of the Beach Boys in or outside of horror cinema. Wherever you sit on that particular fence, there are ghosts and there is a haunting at the heart of The Secret of Marrowbone, mixed up amidst a number of very familiar genre elements and plot twists. Whether they turn out to be literal or not, is another matter entirely.
It's here that The Secret of Marrowbone soars, mining its secrets (more than just the one) for all they're worth in shock and emotional resonance. This is steeped in melodrama, but emotional manipulation is still emotion, and this particular genre fan was left blubbing like a baby for much of the heart-breaking, wrenching, rending finale. That too will have its detractors, who find its ideas silly (this is true), clichéd (this is also true), slightly offensive (debatably true or not true) and obvious (possibly true), but it's undeniably effective on a most visceral, made-me-cry level.
The Secret of Marrowbone isn't without its flaws, but it's earnest in a way that many big horror releases aren't, and is ultimately more about the emotional journey than the genre trappings which surround it. It'll fly under the radar of most horror fans, but its secrets are well worth uncovering for those who care to find the time.