From Magnolia Pictures, Sergio G. Sanchez’s directorial debut Marrowbone is out in select theatres and VOD today. Fans of modern ghosts tales will no doubt remember Sanchez as the writer of 2007’s The Orphange, produced by Guillermo Del Toro. The haunting tale of lives lived and lost stars George MacKay (11.22.63, Neil Gaiman’s Likely Stories), Anya Taylor-Joy (Thoroughbreds, Split), Charlie Heaton (Stranger Things, The New Mutants), Mia Gorth (A Cure For Wellness), with Matthew Stagg, Nicola Harrison, Kyle Soller, and Tom Fisher rounding out the cast.
Marrowbone tells the story of a tight family trying desperately to outrun a tortured past always steps behind them. We’re unsure exactly what they are running from but when they arrive at their new home in America, they vow to wipe the slate clean. As far as they are concerned, their past is dead and gone, never to return. Sadly, the children’s mother falls ill shortly after establishing this new, idyllic life for themselves. On her deathbed, she makes her oldest boy Jack (George MacKay) promise to keep the family intact. A promise they each solemnly pledge to keep. Them against the world.
Fearful that children’s aid will swoop in to separate the children into foster care, Jack handles all of the family’s affairs, keeping their mother’s death secret. He alone goes into town to sell berries and handle the mortgage payments. His siblings Jane (Mia Gorth), Billy (Charlie Heaton), and Sam (Matthew Stagg) stay behind to “care for their bedridden mother”. If the children can manage to avoid suspicion and evade detection until Jack‘s eighteenth birthday, he becomes their legal guardian and they can remain a family. But all is not well in the family home. And as Jack’s siblings become stir crazy, so to has a spirit haunting their hallways become restless, and unrestrained.
Marrowbone is a ghost story that doesn’t hold it’s cards too close to it’s chest. There is a doom that hangs over the characters from act one, a (literal) black spot on the fantasy life they have constructed for themselves. Like the Swiss Family Robinson or Peter Pan’s Lost Boys, the children are a country onto their own but they live under constant threat of discovery…and destruction. If the children aren’t dogging nosy bank employees, they are huddled for safety under blankets from spirits. Having dealt with this darkness for some time they know to avoid mirrors at all costs, and to close their eyes if one should become uncovered. A move that may be a little too obvious for any reveal you are expected to find surprising.
An interesting addition to the film is Anya Taylor-Joy‘s character Allie, the local librarian and love interest. Her presence threatens to tear the family apart. If she doesn’t “take Jack away”, she is still an outsider and threatens the integrity of their secret. The resentment from Jane and Billy is present, but I would have enjoyed seeing their jealousy and frustration fester into a darker second act. And personally, I would love to see this movie retold without her character. I think Anya Taylor-Joy is an incredible actress, and her performance here is as impressive as ever but this story, and all it’s turns, would have been fascinating to see from a more contained setting. That said, Marrowbone is an impressive debut feature that shows incredible technical strength from writer/director Sergio G. Sánchez. Since viewing the film I have found myself lost in still images and promo photos, admiring their complexity and care.
Ultimately, this is a story of a family haunted by the ghosts of their past. And like all ghost stories should, there are some brilliantly crafted scares that remind you just how terrifying an empty, dimly lit house can be when you are alone. Viewers will find themselves ahead of the film, but only in enough time to appreciate the manipulation of it’s point-of-view storytelling. Sergio G. Sánchez, brings heart to his characters before setting them loose in a cold, dark world. Whether on screen or in person, the life the children are hoping for is a pipe dream. And nothing good can come from wishing upon a star that years ago went dark, abandoning every foolhardy dreamer looking up to it for hope.