Marrowbone is the new movie from Sergio G. Sánchez, known for having written The Orphanage. Despite being written, directed, and financed by a Spanish team, the movie takes place in the United States and follows a British family. However, just like The Orphanage, Marrowbone is a jewel for horror movie enthusiasts.
Marrowbone follows the story of the four Marrowbone children during the 60’s: Jack, Billy, Jane, and Sam. They move into their mother’s family house in the States, clearly running away from someone. There, their mother decides to take back her maiden name and gives it to her children, too. She does so in order to provide the possibility for her family to have a new beginning.
And at first, it works. The children even meet a neighbor girl, Allie (played by Anya Taylor-Joy, who certainly knows how to pick which horror movie she should star in well). She ends up becoming good friend with them. Unfortunately, their mother dies shortly after their arrival. None of the children is legally an adult. On her death bed, the mother makes Jack swear that her death will stay hidden until he is 21 in order to keep the family together. Jack agrees.
We then get a time jump of several months. The children, except Jack, are more or less hiding in the house and manage to conceal their mother’s death. However, something is very wrong. Very, very, very wrong.
I can’t honestly give you more detail about the story without spoiling the plot. Let me just add that this is a ghost story as well as a family drama.
The cast in the movie is really good. Especially when we consider that Marrowbone rests on the shoulders of a cast whose oldest actor is 25, and the youngest is 6. Sure, there is the lawyer, played by Kyle Soller, but we spend most of our time with young adults/teenagers and a child. And they all are compelling and well-written characters. They are different, they clash, they take care each other, etc. We have no doubt that the Marrowbone children are siblings and that Allie is their friend. Therefore, you want to know what is going to happen to them, and you want things to turn out well for them.
For example, there is a scene where Jack, Jane, Billy, and Sam are all playing Risk and you can see without the slightest doubt that they are having fun. Sure, Billy acts like a sore loser, something Jane says, but you get the impression that the writing team knows that young people are indeed complex people and take care to write them as how siblings actually interact with each other.
In terms of female characters, we only really have Allie and Jane, who don’t interact much even if they are shown liking each other (no cat fight in this movie, I repeat no female jealousy here). None of them is a Strong Female CharacterTM but they have distinct qualities that are different and they both show strength of character. It gets to the point where it is actually Allie who is the first one to voluntarily confront the antagonistic force of the movie.
In short, for a movie whose plot rests primarily on its characters and their relationship, they are very well handled.
Horror and plot-twist
The horror in Marrowbone is a psychological one. The movie could also be qualified as a thriller. There aren’t really gore-ish moments, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t scary. The story always walks a fine line between paranormal and traumatic/paranoid delirium, and even cold, hard truth. You never really now up until the end what’s real in term of what is really, really wrong and what isn’t. It works very well. Especially since the hypothesis of traumatic/paranoid delirium doesn’t make the children safer.
Marrowbone features several plot-twists that aren’t evident up until one or two scenes before their reveal, yet they are well-integrated and don’t feel out of left field. I have only seen the movie once, but I never once asked “wait, how could that happen?”. Everything is coherent. You can sit back and enjoy a twisted plot that likes to keep you on edge and surprises you.
Another thing that works really well for Marrowbone is its themes. They speak to a large audience. Family is probably the main theme, and it is well done. Especially the relationship between the Marrowbone children, already mentioned before, that shows that siblings can care for each other while sometimes antagonizing each other. But here we also explore our link to family, or attachment to it, and how we ultimately need it.
Trauma features deeply in Marrowbone. How to process it and why some people fail to do so is addressed. However, it never blames the victims for their trauma. Rather, it reminds us that in order to advance and move on from the past we have to face it. There are worse message to convey.
Finally, Marrowbone speaks to abusive/toxic relationships. I can’t talk about most of this aspect of the film for spoilery reasons, but I will address Allie and Tom. Tom is the lawyer and the most important adult character in the movie. He is romantically interested in Allie, who is at least 10 years younger (the actors have a 13 year age gap). While Allie doesn’t seem to mind Tom’s company and is always polite with him, she clearly states that she is not interested in him. Tom won’t take a hint until she makes it clear. When she does, he tells her that he just wants what is best for her, meaning what he believes is best for her. He refuses her rejection. It is always interesting to me to see this kind of dynamic explored in movies, especially when it’s done well.
Marrowbone is a solid, non-gory horror movie relaying on characters, plot, and ambiance. It is beautiful and esthetically interesting. There is a sensuality to this movie. Not in the sexy way but in the way that the viewer has the impression of being brought into a very sensory world. It helps a lot to create the very specific ambiance of the movie.
I can only advise you to give it try when it hits the theater where you live. It might have hit it already. The release dates vary widely from one country to another. In this case, if there is an evening that you want to watch a horror movie, Marrowbone might just do the trick.
Also be prepared, Marrowbone might actually make you cry.