Film Review: The Secret of Marrowbone

Frances Winston reviews this horror film set in the sixties 

Directed by: Sergio G. Sánchez – Starring: George MacKay, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Mia Goth, Matthew Stagg, Kyle Soller, Nicola Harrison, Tom Fisher

I have to admit that I was surprised to learn that this film is set in 1969. The Secret of Marrowbone has all the hallmarks of a gothic horror. Creepy old house – check. Mysterious presence – check. Wide eyed child – check. A family hiding a dark secret – check. Even the costumes worn by the cast don’t really belie the era.

The only real indicator that it is set anytime other than the 1800s comes from interjections of music and news telecasts in the background. Perhaps this is what Sánchez was going for, but it is somewhat disjointing to become engaged with what appears to be a period piece, only to be snapped out of it by a Beach Boys song.

The story itself is typical haunted house fare. A British family arrive in Marrowbone House in rural America, hoping to escape their past. Unfortunately, their mother dies, and it is left to the oldest son, 20-year-old Jack (McKay) to hide the rest of the family away until he turns 21, and can become their legal guardian. All seems to be going well, until they have a mysterious visitor six months later. Fast forward a year, and they are living in fear of a ‘ghost’ that has returned to haunt them, and are caught up in a web of lies that are about to unravel.

Visually, The Secret of Marrowbone is stunning. Interestingly, the majority of the film is set in daylight, although the house still manages to appear suitably creepy. There are some beautiful shots as Sánchez establishes the vastness of the property, which has effectively become a prison to most of the family.

The cast are all top-notch, doing an excellent job with what they are given to work with. The problem is in what they are given to work with. Sánchez seems to like building tension – which equates to getting to the point very slowly. For most of the first hour The Secret of Marrowbone drags, with secrets and lies being alluded to, but not developed further. There are one or two scenes that will send shivers down your spine, but on the whole the scare quota is low, and there are missed opportunities to make the audience jump out of their seats.

When many of the big reveals happen, you no longer care, and they are somewhat underwhelming. The characters are also dreadfully underdeveloped, making it difficult to engage with them fully. It is saved somewhat by not one but two twists near the end. However, having both play out simultaneously does dilute their impact somewhat.

On paper, The Secret of Marrowbone looks like a winner. The haunted house setting is a tried and tested genre, and Sánchez has found a very effective location and an amazing cast.

Unfortunately, some ludicrous plot points, poorly-rounded characters, and extremely slow pacing, make The Secret of Marrowbone tedious rather than terrific. I enjoyed the ending, but the payoff wasn’t worth the previous 90-odd minutes it took to build to it.

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