Review: MARROWBONE Is A Haunting And Effective Family Drama Horror Affair
Sometimes, words invoke emotion. Marrowbone. It's not even a real word, instead a combination of two words that are inherently intertwined and in the case of the 2017 Sergio G. Sanchez film, it's not just the surname of our central family and their estate, but a peek at the chilling and discomforting feeling the movie prods audience with throughout.
A family of five moves to America, running from a mysterious and violent past, and for a time they are happy. Taking up residence in their mothers family estate, the Marrowbone's (three brothers, Jack and Billy and Sam, along with their sister Jane) are content to live outside of town and only share time with a new friend in distant neighbor, Allie. After their mother dies, Jack is made to promise to hide her passing until he is twenty one and can legally care for his siblings. Soon after, a stranger appears and we flash forward in the lives of the Marrowbones and are left to piece together what happened.
It's a strange movie, but in a good way. Set in 1969, you would be led to believe the film took place in the early 1900's until you follow Jack into town to visit Allie, when we are shown that the world outside of Marrowbone Estate is much more modern than the families hidden home. It works though, subtlety showcasing how far removed the family is from their modern day society. This is not a reclusive family, no, this is a family that is disconnected from the world. It's little pieces of the puzzle such as this one that will slowly add up throughout the course of the film to give the viewer an idea of just what's happening and it's that same microscopic intricacies that made the movie feel so intimate and ultimately chilling. After being forced to sometimes arduously meld slivers of information together, with patience often wearing thin, it's the intermittent revelations that make all of the slow burn worth it.
While the story of the movie is interesting, full of twists and turns, what really drives it home are the performances. The cast is stacked. Contemporary horror stars Charlie Heaton (Stranger Things), Mia Goth (A Cure for Wellness) and Anya Taylor-Joy (Split, The Witch) are just some of the actors behind this film that bolster up it's acting chops. Up and comer George MacKay plays the eldest son, Jack (also with a bit role in the excellent Ghost Stories) and he carries the bulk of the story on his shoulders. It's not just that MacKay is our central protagonist, although a fair share of that vessel is doled out to Taylor-Joy as love interest Allie, but it's how he showcases such nuance and vulnerability in his role. The biggest curveball of the movie could fall flat or cheesy if not for the strong performance from MacKay, who handles a character type with grace and sensitivity.
Now this isn't to knock down any of the other performances. Goth as the doting sister and Heaton as the hot head brother are both charming and utterly believable and Matthew Stagg as the youngest Sam steals every scene he's in. Taylor-Joy carries herself well but it's not until the third act of the movie where she reminds of why she already has a blossoming film career. Bonus points to Tom Fisher and Kyle Soller for selling the hell out of two different types of antagonist.
Another thing the movie does well is swiftly dodging back and forth between genres. The family drama and love interest pieces are never overstepped or bog down the rest of the plot and the horror aspects are deftly woven amongst even further subgenres. It plays cat-and-mouse with the viewer, coyly hinting at what kind of actual terror is lurking in the peripheral of the film. Director Sergio G. Sanchez is well known in genre circles, scripting the critically acclaimed The Orphanage, and it's easy to see here that he has a knack for being behind the camera as well.
Marrowbone could neatly fit into what A24 has been distributing. It may get tagged alongside other slow burn pieces such as It Comes At Night but when it comes down to the meat of it, it's wildly different. It's much less nihilistic and while the pace is methodical, it's not plodding. Sometimes you can taste the fuzz of the buildup in a slow burn horror film but the clarity here is much more clear. Marrowbone is if J.M. Barrie leaned into the darkness. Although it's run time is a bit too long, Marrowbone is a cleverly crafted period piece that's as much family drama as horror and it works.