The Secret of Marrowbone (or simply Marrowbone in the US) is a Spanish produced and shot film, with a largely British cast, set in America. It is clearly a very worldwide production. It was released in America some time ago now to some sniffy reviews from critics and a bit of a dull reaction from audiences. Now it has finally landed in Britain and gets its UK premiere thanks to the Edinburgh International Film Festival.
Following the story of four kids who emigrate to the ‘States with their terminally ill mum to hide from their killer father, the film’s set up is very cool. They move into the family home; meet a new American friend called Allie (Anya Taylor-Joy), the mother finally dies and the father finds them. This all happens in the first 15/20 minutes. The title comes up and the father finding them is not mentioned until much later on. Now with nobody to look after them, Jack (George Mckay) must step into the role of father figure and family leader while dealing with strange goings on in the house and convincing the outside world that his mother is still alive.
The Secret of Marrowbone has been marketed as a pure and simple “FrightFest” of a movie; and it does contain a suitable amount of scares. The motif of mirrors hiding secrets that should never be seen is recurs repeatedly. Sam (Matthew Stagg), the youngest of the four, is the most scared of them and many of them involve him accidentally revealing what his brothers refer to as “The Ghost”.
The Ghost is revealed in a sequence where he appears in a mirror with a white sheet over him, forming slowly inside it. I don’t have the strongest stomach when it comes to horrors so I was adequately frightened by this experience. However, some of the scares rely on making you jump, which does not take away from the atmosphere as they are not overused and do not become annoying. Jump scares are simply another way to scare you and make you uncomfortable, which this movie does well.
The family dynamic is important. A lot of the time is spent with just the four kids on the screen, all of whom have a unique personality and role within the family. Take the middle son Ben (Charlie Heaton) is the protector of the family, always carrying a weapon and a very hands-on attitude, who is different from Jack, who will sort it out with other smarter means. There is also Jane (Mia Goth), the mother figure and Sam’s teacher who is mainly there to scream and be bait, which is a little disappointing. There is also the relationship between the main romantic pairing of Allie and Jack. It’s a role that Anya Taylor-Joy was born to play. She not only loves Jack but also loves the family; so kind and so loving, she could simply smile and you would know that everything will be alright.
On the downside, there does feel like padding to force some breaks into some of the scenes with the family. The lawyer, Porter (Kyle Soller), whose presence does make sense, but he still managed to have a subplot that felt slow and out-of-place with the rest of the movie. The plot’s antagonist is also the romantic rival between Jack and Allie whose prospects of getting a job in New York hinge on blackmailing the children. He is what could be considered the main villain that isn’t the monster in the house, yet we still spend far too much time with him.
Like most film festival movies, I knew nothing when entering aside from a Rotten Tomatoes score and was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. It was scary, it has a mega-twist that changes the way you will talk and think about the movie; and is something I’ve worked hard to talk around in this review. It does suffer from some pacing issues and could do with a slightly tighter script, but all-in-all, it’s a ride that you won’t regret taking.
The Secret of Marrowbone hits UK cinemas on 13th July.