April 10, 2018 Marrowbone (Movie Review)
When one walks through a forest and examines a tree up close, there is a marked uniqueness in the curves and bumps on the bark. From tree to tree, the nuances in growth patterns tell an infinitely complicated, but beautifully modest life story. With proximity, no two trees are alike, but when the grove is seen as a whole, the trees all look basically indistinguishable from one another.
The nuances of Sergio Sánchez’s Marrowbone, when observed with no reference points, are eerie, but quaint and warm like a Shirley Jackson novella. However, when one steps back and observes the whole thicket of recent “delicately gothic” Horror and Suspense films such as Osgood Perkins’ I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House in 2016, Guillermo Del Toro’s Crimson Peak in 2015, and Chan-Wook Park’s Stoker in 2013, Marrowbone blends in as just another mundane tree in a copse filled with more interesting growth.
As a co-production between Lions Gate International, Telecinco Cinema, Mogambo Pictures, and eponymous studio, Marrowbone, short film Director, Sergio Sánchez’s full-length directorial debut, Marrowbone, enjoyed a limited Spanish release on October 27, 2017. Now picked up by Magnet Releasing, it will be released stateside in select theaters as well as On Demand, Amazon Video, and iTunes as of Friday, April 13, 2018.
Marrowbone is the assumed surname of a family fleeing from Britain and the unfortunate notoriety of their murderous, incarcerated father. Shortly after their arrival to America, the mother of the family takes gravely ill. When she dies, her children Jack (George MacKay: Captain Fantastic 2016, 11.22.63 series), Billy (Charlie Heaton: Stranger Things series, Shut In 2016), Jane (Mia Goth: Nymphomaniac 2013, The Survivalist 2015), and Sam (Matthew Stagg: Macbeth 2015, War & Peace series) are effectively orphaned in America in a dilapidated and waterworn house. Eventually, their father breaks out of prison and finds his way back to his children. They are forced to defend themselves to the death against him.
A year passes and the children remain in the house, haunted by their father. Determined to retain possession of the only home they have, they trick suspicious lawyer, Tom (Kyle Soller: Monsters: Dark Continent 2014, The Trip To Spain 2017) into notarizing falsified paperwork, ensuring their ownership of the house and presumably an unperturbed life. Meanwhile, Jack and Tom are pursuing the same girl (though Jack with more luck), a beautiful librarian named Allie (Anya Taylor-Joy: The Witch 2015, Split 2016). The spurned Tom spitefully reviews the Marrowbone paperwork and Jack and his siblings must now deal with the compound threat of both losing their home and being dispatched by the angry spirit within it.
Though set in America in the early 1970s, Marrowbone is shot mostly in Barcelona and the northern countryside of Spain. The entire film feels dreamlike because it is difficult to imagine such beautiful vistas anywhere in America. The setting seems to be a drowsily idyllic composite from a childhood memory, which fits the narrative as snug as a too-small glove. The lighting is largely natural, but very even, adding to the ethereal atmosphere.
At times, however, the dramatic score evokes excessive emotion that does not match the action on screen. It overpowers some sequences and suggests impending dire consequences where there are none. A simple jaunt up a staircase turns into an unwarranted life-or-death clamber due to this off-kilter soundtrack. Like a dog that hears its leash, only to find out that a walk is not in its near-future, the audience questions, “What’s happening and why am I excited? Did I miss something?”
Nevertheless, If Marrowbone is intended to be a vehicle for a new ensemble class of young and hip up-and-comers, it is a limousine, full to capacity. MacKay’s ‘Jack’ is a willful and decisive leader, but displays an authentic raw nerve as his ability to protect his family and moreover, his sanity, is tested. Taylor-Joy as Jack’s American love interest, ‘Allie’ is incredibly charming and skilled, as usual. Throughout her budding career, she has slipped fluidly between Fay-Wray-femme-fatale and Jamie-Lee-Curtis-scream-queen very gracefully; she falls somewhere in the middle in Marrowbone and is an inexhaustible pleasure to watch. Heaton plays an analog to his character from Stranger Things as ‘Billy,’ the tough and broody brother of Jack. He displays the same quiet star quality that James Dean did and remains a stylish standout of his young class.
A spirited mix of both cheap startles and authentic scares is present, which makes for an unpredictable and tense watch. There is an unsure air about the film that lasts nearly from beginning to end. Though it uses common Horror tropes such as mirrors and flashlight communication and exploits the innocent vulnerability of children’s fear, there are some refreshingly novel, hair-raising moments to send audiences diving under the blankets or retreating behind their hands and eyelids. There is death and resentment as well as love and determination which enriches the film emotionally, but leaves its viewer unsure of how to feel as the credits roll and then nonplussed when the dust settles.
For some genuinely creepy moments, interesting setting and set design, and for padding the résumés of some of the most promising upcoming talent on the horizon, CrypticRock awards Marrowbone 3.5 out of 5 stars.