Marrowbone review George MacKay Charlie Heaton Mia Goth Matthew StaggYear: 2018
Director(s): Sergio G. Sanchez
Writer(s): Sergio G. Sanchez
Region of Origin: Spain

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: R
Color, 110 mins

Synopsis: A young man and his three younger siblings are plagued by a sinister presence in the sprawling manor where they live. (Source)

There are scarier things than ghosts, and Marrowbone is a ghost story that proves this. For his directorial debut, Sergio G. Sanchez (The Orphanage) turns his eye toward loss, regret and the innate darkness within, lending classic horror elements a story teeming with human frailty. Harnessing beautiful visuals and palpable atmosphere, Sanchez puts an important emphasis on familial drama first and foremost, amounting to chills that are as frightening as they are affecting. Needless to say, the film’s poignancy grabs a hold of us, evoking a tonal fragrance that’s undeniably intoxicating. From its ensemble of rising stars to Sanchez’s keen display of human longing, what might’ve been a generic haunted house tale is a rich experience that forcefully resonates.

When we first meet the Marrowbones, they’ve just fled England for a secluded manor somewhere in America. As it turns out, siblings Jack, (George MacKay), Jane (Mia Goth), Billy (Charlie Heaton) and Sam (Matthew Stagg) have just moved with their mother to her childhood home. Why they’ve chosen to start again is something that’s gradually revealed, and for a while, the Marrowbones are able to carve out a nice, quaint life for themselves. After befriending a local girl named Allie (Anya Taylor-Joy), however, things turn sour after an unexpected tragedy forces the children to fend for themselves. Withdrawing from the community, internal and external threats begin to mount as the Marrowbones’ bonds are tested. Suddenly, the family is torn between the past they’ve tried to leave behind, and the lives they’re trying so hard to rebuild.

More than just a spook show, Sanchez’s film is an immersive coming of age story, one that brings us into the headspace of a family fighting against the odds. The film blends period drama, gothic terror and surreal visuals in order to prove that horror, as a genre, isn’t really about the scares, but rather about what these scares mean. By twisting archetypal elements, Sanchez gives weight and substance to tradition, threading a dense, twisty plot that keeps us guessing until the very end. Along the way, the plot renders a survival story about second chances, tragedy and extremes, highlighting how beauty can coexist alongside tragedy, happiness with sadness and loneliness amidst friendship. It’s because of this that the film rises above the sum of its grotesque scares, all of which are organically strewn to reveal layers of a dense, emotional mystery. The focus on flesh-and-blood drama may throw some people off, but results in a story that feels grounded and psychologically rich, replete with a crumbling haunted estate that stands out as one of the film’s greatest characters. As things hurtle towards a grisly resolution, Sanchez’s artful direction and deft tonal control is impressive, allowing things to shift from wonder and awe to damning desperation.

Marrowbone review George MacKay Anya Taylor-JoyIn terms of cast, there is no weak link. As the eldest, MacKay’s Jack is the narrative centerpiece. Everything hinges around his internal struggle, and MacKay is great at shifting between charm and distress. Mia Goth’s Jane is the defacto matriarch with blinding compassion and patience. Goth picks up where MacKay leaves off, creating a nice counterpart that really pulls us into the family’s dynamic. Heaton’s Billy acts a bit like the family muscle – he’s the most pragmatic when it comes to asserting an idea, and never afraid to get his hands dirty. As the outsider, Allie, Taylor-Joy is an undisputed bright spot, acting as a respite for Jack and the Marrowbones in a way that gives the film its heart and soul – her presence cements her as a force to be reckoned with. As the younger sibling, Stagg gets a few moments to show his chops, but his role isn’t as substantial.

Marrowbone is heartachingly beautiful and steeped in pathos. Its human slant is relatable despite the extraordinary circumstances, and balances nicely with Sanchez’s narrative slight of hand. No matter how many ghost stories we’ve seen, this film feels anchored in something real, adding depth to ideas that most films use as window dressing. Though the film delivers in terms of otherworldly frights, Sanchez’s greatest achievement is how personal the film is, illustrating how nothing is scarier than the threats that lie within.