When therapist Marianne Winter (Thekla Reuten) moves to a remote area of Scotland following a tragedy, her attempts at a new life is thrown off course by one of her patients, ten year old Manny (Elijah Wolf) who claims he can see and control her future. With Manny’s previous therapist Dr McVittie’s (Peter Mullan) notes being removed following his admission to a mental hospital and subsequent self-immolation, Marianne struggles against both the wall of silence from her colleagues and her own mind as she tries to uncover the truth behind Manny’s drawings.
Billed as a new take on The Sixth Sense, Marionette’s central premise rests on the relationship between Manny and Marianne, a professional interest giving way to unnerving curiosity as Marianne begins to question the very world around her. Wolf, as Manny, moves between that horror trope of the eerie, knowledgable child figure, and very real and vulnerable young boy who has experienced damaging trauma.
The script, written by director Elbert van Strien and Ben Hopkins, doesn’t just stick to the supernatural or psychic route when it comes to Manny’s drawings and visions, instead blending quantum physics and questions around the nature of free will throughout the film. Marianne joins the town’s local book club, intially due to the presence of the charming bookseller Kieran (Emun Elliott), but soons finds herself debating alternate realities and the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment. As Marianne’s own perception of the world begins to breakdown, these questions rise to the surface – do we make something real simply by looking for it?
The isolation of the unnamed Scottish town and the magnificant, desolate landscape around it provides a perfect palate for cinematographer Guido van Gennep to explore. Marianne’s office is a relic from another time, dark varnished wood and deep green wallpaper from another era contrast with the selection of patient’s drawings affixed in a corner of the room. Outside, a concrete grey sky dominates the landscapes of choppy seas, and evergreen forests contrast almost violently with the abundance of light during flashbacks to Marianne’s life in America. Danger begins to lurk round every corner as Manny’s visions become increasingly violent, a romantic trip on Kieran’s boat threatens to turn deadly at any moment as the darkness lingers around them, unending and overbearing.
To reveal any more of the plot would be to ruin what builds to geniunely shocking and unexpected second act ending, but as some of the strands begin to disintergrate, Reuten’s carefully managed performance holds much of the film together, even as the twists become increasingly strange. The strong supporting cast is almost criminally underused, especially Peter Mullan, whose dramatic opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the film.
Marionette is not just the Sixth Sense re-imagining that it is being billed as, instead it tackles complex questions about reality while also being an unnerving and interesting addition to the horror genre.
Marionette was due to screen at Cannes Film Festival 2020 but was cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This film has been made available to critics from the distributor.
by Rose Dymock