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 the terminally ill mum to hide from their killer father, the films 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 of the movie. 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 film has been marketed as pure and simple fright fest of a movie and it does contain a suitable amount of scares. There is a strong focus on the mirrors in this film hiding a secret that we are told should never be seen. The youngest of the four, Sam (Matthew Stagg), is the most scared of them and many of them involve him accidentally revealing what his brothers refer to as “The Ghost”. Revealed in a sequence where he appears in a mirror with simply 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. Some of them are jump scares, not to take away from it as they are not overused and do not become annoying for the movie. Jump scares are simply another way to scare you and make you uncomfortable, which this movie does well.
The family dynamic is important for this movie. A lot of the time is spent with just the four kids on the screen, all of which have a unique personality and role within the family. Take the middle son Ben (Charlie Heaton) for example. He is the protector of the family, always carrying a weapon and a very hands-on attitude, different from Jack who will sort it out with other smarter means. There is also Jane (Mia Goth), the mother figure for the family and Sam’s teacher. She is mainly there to scream and be bait which is a little disappointing. There is also the relationship between Allie and Jack, who are the main romantic pairing in the movie. It’s something 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), who does make sense in being in the movie yet still managed to have a subplot which felt slow and out of place with the rest of the movie. The romantic rival between Jack and Allie, he also has prospects of getting a job in New York and requires money from the children through blackmail. He is the main villain in the movie that is not the monster in the house, but we spend far too much time with him.
Like most film festival movies, I knew nothing when entering, bar a Rotten Tomatoes score, and was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. It was scary, it has one mega twist that changes the way you’ll talk and think about the movie, 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 a ride that you won’t regret taking.