Horror films always do well to use familial love as an anchor over romantic love. As The Secret of Marrowbone begins, we are introduced to a tight-knit set of siblings with some mixed range performances. Charlie Heaton, of Stranger Things fame, is clunky and unconvincing as the middle brother of the four children. The ever-intriguing Mia Goth is calm and sweet as the sister, Jane, who acts as a mother figure for the youngest, Sam (Matthew Stagg). However, it’s George MacKay’s Jack that steals it, putting utter conviction into every second, when we reach the bone-chilling final act he cements himself as a force to be reckoned with.
The films beginning is clunky, the title card appearing a good twenty-minutes in, only to flash forward ‘six months later’ another ten minutes after that. The story seems lost for a little while, but the charming connection the siblings share keeps you just interested enough to wait for something. The four children, and their ailing mother, have fled their father and a recent traumatic past, and Jack has promised to keep the family safe and hidden until he turns 21. Writer and director, Sergio G. Sánchez, waits as long as possible before telling us why, revealing all in an intense finale which erases everything we were led to believe before.
Had The Secret of Marrowbone branded itself a little differently, it would have made for a thrilling and provocative period drama. It slips between genres as cracks begin to show; by the time the credits role the score pertains an atmosphere that wouldn’t seem out of place in Pride and Prejudice. Blurring the lines between supernatural and psychological is interesting, until you blur the lines between horror and period drama. That isn’t to say you can’t do both, or that it’s impossible; but where this story went felt as though the writing itself didn’t even know what it was anymore. The mysteries, suspense, and captivating location aren’t quite enough to save a script that just falls flat. Had it had some confidence in its identity, The Secret of Marrowbone might have been more memorable.
By Millicent Thomas
Millicent Thomas is a proud Mancunian who will be studying film at Bath School of Art & Design from September 2018. Hobbies include theatre, museums and waiting for Charles Xavier to show up and tell her she’s the world’s most powerful mutant. Her favourite films include Whiplash, Her, Logan and Short Term 12. You can follow her on Instagram at @millicentathomas and twitter at @millicentonfilm