Tuesday, 17 July 2018

The Secret Of Marrowbone

One of my favourite things a horror film can do is commit to it's premise. When the story goes where you hope it will go no matter how silly and far fetched things get. It's why I love films like The Omen and The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby and more recently It Follows and Hereditary. I love a horror that has the balls to embrace all the silliness inherent in scary movies and just go with it.

I didn't love The Secret Of Marrowbone. I liked quite a bit of it though.

Rose Marrowbone and her 4 children turn up in America in 1969. They are on the run from England and wind up back in her childhood home. The journey across the Atlantic was a tough one and it takes it's toll on her already weakened health. Her dying wish is that the family not be split apart and the only way to do that is for the eldest, Jack, to keep them hidden from society until he's 21 and old enough to take custody of them. But.....

This was ok, not bad, alright......grand, it was grand. It's very well acted, has bucket loads of atmosphere, it's gorgeous looking in places, asks intriguing questions about the siblings and the home they've built for themselves (what is up with the ceiling and the mirrors??), has one or two genuinely unsettling moments and then..... then it just chickens out. Instead of going for the jugular it gives you a puck in the arm instead, a half hearted "aren't we clever" kind of a puck. A couple of knowing moments that play with genre expectations work well but get muffled as the film descends into familiarity towards the end. You get the feeling it all would have worked better if the writers and director had decided to either make the film a straight drama or gone all out down a horror film route. As it is it feels like a messy mish-mash that wants to have it's cake and eat it too.

A committed performance from George MacKay as Jack does it's best to keep everything in place though, even when you feel like scoffing at the screen, he'll keep you glued to it. The oldest child, the only one who gets to go out into the world, a budding romance with their neighbour and local librarian Allie (Anya Taylor-Joy) his only outlet from the secrets kept by his family. Happiness and rage clash behind his eyes, he's a young man burdened by a promise kept to a dying woman and the toll it's taking on him is plain to see. He's really good. Genre fans will get a kick out of the rest of the casting too. Charlie Heaton as brother Billy will be familiar to many from his work in Stranger Things. Taylor-Joy is building a fine horror career for herself with this, The Witch, Morgan and Split. And Mia Goth as sister Jane who turned up in last years underrated A Cure For Wellness and is soon to star in the Suspiria remake. All do good work but there's something quite unique about Taylor-Joy. She has a kind of ethereal look about her that will see her go far in the horror/fantasy movie world.

Another thing I liked about the film was it's odd sense of time and place. At moments you wouldn't be blamed for thinking the film had a 19th century setting until a touch of the modern jars you, be it a glimpse of an automobile, a brief glance of one the most famous pieces of 20th century news on a TV or a very famous pop song. It's unsettling and strange and well done and gives a film lacking in scares a welcome eerie feel. And then that final third of the film kicks off and lets the side down.

It's grand. There's plenty of good here but it's let down but a script that's afraid to commit. Had it done so, that combined with atmospheric locations (Spain doubling for America) and great acting could have added up to something special. Writer/Director Sergio G. S├ínchez has fine form in the field having written the 2007 horror film The Orphanage. There's definite echoes of that film here but none of its scares. It's a wasted opportunity.

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