Directed by Sergio G Sanchez. Starring George MacKay, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Kyle Soller. Horror/Mystery, Spain, 110 mins, cert 15.
Released on VOD in the UK by Entertainment One on the 5th November 2018, and on DVD on 19th November, 2018.
The big surprise about THE SECRET OF MARROWBONE (apart from the fact that it isn’t anything to do with the ingredients of dog food) is why it appeared in UK cinemas mostly unheralded and dropped off the circuits very quickly afterwards, because it’s a decent, well-mounted and nicely constructed semi-horror movie that really should have made more of an impact. Despite being slightly on the long side (110 minutes) and without any big star names or full-on horror spectacle it’s well worth your time, and it still works on a second viewing, confirming that its twists do just about add up in the end.
It's 1969, and Marrowbone is the derelict old ancestral home on the American coast to which the four Fairbairn children and their mother flee from Britain after their father was caught and jailed as vicious serial killer (and child abuser) The Beast Of Bampton. But adopting the old name and rarely venturing outside can only protect them for so long… Six months later the youngsters are apparently safe and well, with only eldest brother Jack (George MacKay) leaving the house for supplies (traded for sister Jane's home baking), and their sole outside contact and friend being local librarian and distant neighbour Allie (Anya Taylor-Joy). But slimy lawyer Tom Porter (Kyle Soller) knows the family's history and could well jeopardise their apparent happiness....
The major name on the film is actually executive producer JA Bayona, for whom writer-director Sergio G Sanchez wrote THE IMPOSSIBLE and THE ORPHANAGE, and while there are a few similarities with the latter it never feels like treading old ground. Haunted house films are all over the place these days, particularly on streaming services, but this is one of those haunted house movie that isn’t really: although it mostly falls into that subgenre and starts off with many of the usual tropes (big spooky house, much talk of ghosts, scary noises off, covered mirrors, dark patches on the ceiling that bring films like DARK WATER to mind), it eventually settles for a much less supernatural but equally horrific solution, cleverly hiding the post-Shyamalan twist ending and efficiently shuffling its timeline (with only a few moments where it, and the audience, almost loses track of the who and when).
For some, the big reveals towards the end might be a bit obvious in retrospect and the structure needlessly confusing (I didn't pick up on all the clues first time around, and didn't entirely figure the plot out until I was halfway home), but on balance THE SECRET OF MARROWBONE is pretty good stuff. It's very nicely shot and performed, it's emotionally engaging as well as pleasantly creepy, and it's also aided by a lush score from Bayona's regular composer Fernando Velazquez, pointing up the emotional core as much as the discreet horror. I liked it a lot.