Review: Writer of The Orphanage and The Impossible, Sergio G. Sánchez crafts an overly solid yet convoluted story—about four Marrowbone siblings—which conceals deeply sentimental twist under piles of familiar elements.
In his directorial debut, Marrowbone, Sánchez again utilizes supernatural elements within emotional family drama frame as in his previous works. Set in seaside America of the 1960s, this period drama revolves around the lives of four siblings who recently move to the States from England, to the childhood house of their mother, Rose Fairbairn—nee Marrowbone (Nicola Harrison). Starting over their lives in a foreign land, the siblings—Jack (Captain Fantastic’s George Mackay), Billy (Stranger Things’ Charlie Heaton), Jane (Mia Goth), and Sam (Matthew Stagg)—bear their mother’s maiden name to disguise from something that has been haunting them all along.
Sánchez presents Marrowbone as a fragmented puzzle. In similar fashion as what he’s done in J.A. Bayona’s The Orphanage, the writer-director puts several ‘plantings’ and scatters clues regarding the film’s biggest mystery all over before lets audiences enter the guessing games. He begins by introducing Ally (Anya Taylor-Joy), a local librarian who gets immediately involved in a romantic relationship with Jack. Before long, pivotal characters are coming in and coming out screen intentionally to set up Sánchez’s intended illusion of reality. In another minute, there’s an intentional blackout and the film starts anew as a horror piece involving unseen apparitions and veiled mirrors.
There’s apparently a diversion leading audiences into thinking it’s a straight horror, while in fact, it always appears to be a thriller with layers of mystery. In presenting the mystery, Marrowbone often takes up familiar routes here and there, as if it’s a combination of several other films’ elements (most notably, Orphanage and Amenabar’s The Others). Additionally, the editing often makes this film a little jumpy and uneven—empty at some points but convoluted at some other points. Those ambitious steps turn out leading to the film’s non-shaking but sentimental, which apparently works.
The film’s heart-wrenching twist is not unpredictable. Keen eyes would have seen it coming a few moments before it’s unraveled. When it is unveiled, it’s more apparent that the twist is barely original. And yet, Marrowbone’s sentimental revelation actually works. It hits the right spot and overshadows the film’s flaws.
That twist only works because of the heartthrobbing performances delivered by Marrowbone’s excellent young talents. Mackay showcases a layered performance that makes his character a sympathetic one; he bonds effectively with Taylor-Joy, who might have been the film’s biggest gem. Heaton, Goth and Stagg respectively emanate radiating performance which makes audiences rooting for the siblings easily.
While flawed and unoriginal, Marrowbone is still spared by its sentimental revelation and strong performances by its ensemble of cast.