Having just appeared in the darkest of dark comedies, Thoroughbreds, as well as such works as The Witch and Split, actor Anya Taylor-Joy is one of the more reliable new faces in films these days. So when I first heard that she was appearing in a new horror film by first-time director Sergio G. Sanchez (who wrote The Orphanage and The Impossible), I was more than a little intrigued, bordering on excited. Marrowbone certainly has its moments as a thriller and a gripping mystery about a group of siblings who live in a home alone, attempting to hide the fact that their mother (Nicola Harrison) has died, so that they aren’t removed from the home and separated.
But the decrepit family home also once belonged their father, who it turns out held a shocking secret that tainted the family’s reputation in the area for quite some time. Older brother Jack (George Mackay from Captain Fantastic) leads his one sister, Jane (Mia Goth of The Cure for Wellness), and two brothers (Charlie Heaton from “Stranger Things” and Matthew Stagg) in this grand deception from anyone who comes to the home looking for their mother. That includes the family lawyer, Tom Porter (Kyle Soller) and even more trusted friends like young local librarian Allie (Taylor-Joy), who has fallen for Jack. In order to spend more time together, Jack leaves the home every so often, leaving his brothers and sister back home, which they are not happy about since they too would like to lead more normal lives.
They also want to get out of the house because there is a sinister presence that seem to permeate the very fabric of the wood. They make a practice of covering up all mirrors, presumably because the evil they feel somehow hides in the reflection, but there may be something more to it than that. Having spent time on sets with J.A. Bayona over the years, Sanchez (who also wrote the film) has learned a thing or two about creating a tense and scary atmosphere for Marrowbone (which refers to the children’s last name), but the plot and its many secrets seem far too complicated and overwrought. And sometimes a movie front-loaded with moody children can get to be a bit too much, especially when we can anticipate their every emotional outburst and act of disobedience. It simply becomes tiresome after a while.
As the film’s one voice of reason and sensibility, Taylor-Joy does bring some much-needed stability to the proceedings. But she’s sometimes gone from the film for extended periods, leaving us with the terrified, screaming and fully rattled Marrowbone kids. The question I asked myself once all was revealed was whether the pretzel-like logic of the story and endless shots of trembling children running away from what they believe is the ghost of their terrifying father are all worth it. It’s a close call, but Marrowbone just misses the mark as a captivating movie, although the production design of the home and some of the scares will keep most die-hard horror fans in their comfort zone long enough perhaps not to notice.
The film is available beginning today On Demand, Amazon Video, and iTunes.