There’s a terrible secret in the heart of the Marrowbone home. With Marrowbone, The Orphanage screenwriter Sergio G. Sánchez brings Gothic horror into a more modern, yet nonetheless haunting setting for a tale of loyalty, love, and murder.
Set in a rural American community in 1969, Marrowbone centers on the titular, traumatized family who has moved from misfortunes in England to start a new life in their mother’s long-abandoned family home. But once she falls ill, eldest Jack (George McKay) must care for his siblings, kind Jane (Mia Goth), impulsive Billy (Stranger Things’ Charlie Heaton), and little Sam (Matthew Stagg). He promises to protect them from a threat too terrible to name, something that bangs inside the walls, hides behind covered mirrors, and seeps from the ceiling. Jack is devoted to his siblings, but thirsts for a bit of freedom, and so sneaks away for trysts with Allie (The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy), a lovely young librarian. But when a rival for her affections plays dirty to win her over, the Marrowbone secret could be unearthed, ruining even the little scrap of happiness this haunted household has managed.
Written and directed by Sánchez, the film trembles with restrained romance and fevered frights. It is a tale of two worlds colliding by means of Jack, who is becoming a man. His home is one trapped in the rules of a time before. There, colors are muted. Pleasures are simple, be they baking or board games. Laughter is never too loud, for fear of jinxing a peaceful night. The Marrowbone House is one that feels plucked from turn-of-the-century Gothic horror. But Marrowbone gets unexpected and welcomed verve when Jack travels away from his far-flung family home and into town.
Allie wears vibrant colors and a warm, lacquered smile. She shares Jack and his siblings’ love of fantastical tales, and cozy days in the forests and beaches. When Jack’s away from home, Marrowbone feels like a warm-blooded American romance, pitting the scrappy underdog on his simple bicycle against the hotshot attorney with a fancy car and big city ambitions. Remarkably, these two tones don’t clash, but dance in a dizzying mystery that not only demands to know what’s going on in that curious home but also which world Jack and Allie will choose to call their own.
There’s an enveloping mood of enchanting doom from the film’s first frames. But where this first-time feature director falters is with a sloppy setup. At the end of the first act, Sánchez tears a big, violent hole in the heart of his story. And it won’t be until the final act that it’s made whole. This sparks a harsh befuddlement for the viewer, which proves a distraction from many clever visual cues, and gentle character work in its second act. This is impossible to properly explain without major spoilers. And I won’t go there, because even despite this fumble, Marrowbone’s journey is well worth the rockiness. Instead, I’d advise this: If the premise intrigues, if the promise enchants, avoid any further spoilers. Seek out Marrowbone, and give yourself the chance to sink into Sánchez’s soulful and scary love story. And maybe allow for time to watch it twice, as this one grows much richer on rewatching.
Marrowbone will hit theaters and On Demand, Amazon Video, and iTunes on April 13th.