In the wake of the sensational Hereditary, another psychological horror about a tormented, seemingly cursed family was always going to struggle in comparison. And while it ultimately goes in a wholly different direction, The Secret of Marrowbone isn’t just inferior – it’s a bit of a bust generally.
Setting up the story of four English siblings trying to escape a troubled past in late ‘60s America, Marrowbone weaves in some promising elements of intrigue. There’s an abusive father, an unexplained scar, a bricked-up attic and… something in there. As the narrative unfolds (hardly at a blistering pace, it must be said) the audience are made to question the nature of this menace: what is haunting the crumbling old Marrowbone house? Is it really a ghost, as youngest brother Sam believes, or something more human and horribly familiar?
Spanish writer-director Sergio G. Sánchez has pedigree in scripts for the (admittedly similar) The Orphanage and The Impossible, but here feels bound by the earnestness of his story and characters, who are thinly sketched. Lead George Mackay does his best as under-strain eldest Marrowbone sibling Jack, but rapidly rising star Anya Taylor-Joy is somewhat wasted as his love interest and Charlie Heaton’s given little chance to expand on Stranger Things’ Jonathan.
Scary set pieces are also few and far between, and when they do arrive are limited to creaking floorboards, covers falling from mirrors and people peering into dark holes – which gave more of a shock in a slightly misleading trailer.
A well-shot and initially captivating Gothic chiller, Marrowbone is let down by its lack of genuine chills and too many plot holes (at worst) or leaps (if you’re feeling kind). By the time the reveal comes, you’re just not invested enough – and a by-now well-used twist is more likely to illicit groans than gasps.
CAST: George Mackay, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Mia Goth, Matthew Stagg
DIRECTOR: Sergio G. Sánchez
WRITER: Sergio G. Sánchez
SYNOPSIS: After their mother’s death, Jack and his siblings struggle to survive on their own, hiding from the world and with no other place to go, when a threatening presence begins to haunt the old house.