Film review: The Secret Of Marrowbone – decent scares but missed opportunities
SCREENWRITER Sergio G Sanchez, who penned the script to the 2007 Spanish horror The Orphanage, makes his directorial debut more than a decade later with a supernatural period thriller, which delights in confounding expectations when we least expect it.
The first-time film-maker conjures a couple of decent scares, aided and abetted by Xavi Gimenez's atmospheric cinematography, which revels in the shifting shadows and light of a creaking family homestead in a coastal American town.
There is little here to shock or thrill die-hard horror fans and gore hounds, and The Secret Of Marrowbone doesn't come close to the nerve-shredding tension of the opening hour of the psychological horror Hereditary.
However, Sanchez delivers one deceptively satisfying twist and he elicits strong performances from a predominantly young British cast, who react instinctively to every whisper of wind or ominous groan of an attic floorboard.
For all its impeccable style and directorial restraint, the film is haunted by the spectre of missed opportunities. Some of the characters feel undernourished and the writer-director's ambition occasionally exceeds his grasp including a frenetic resolution, which feels muddled after an assured and disturbing narrative set-up.
Rose Marrowbone (Nicola Harrison) spirits away her four children Jack (George Mackay), Billy (Charlie Heaton), Jane (Mia Goth) and Sam (Matthew Stagg) to her secluded childhood home in 1960s America. The family hopes to start anew but Rose falls gravely ill, leaving her brood in dire straits because Jack is too young to assume the role of his siblings' legal guardian.
"You just have to turn 21," Rose tenderly instructs her eldest child. "Stay hidden till then."
When the matriarch passes away, the youngsters agree to keep Rose's death a closely guarded secret and they rarely stray from the confines of the house to avoid attracting attention.
A darkness manifests inside the home and the children keep the mirrors covered with sheets to prevent the malevolent spirit from lashing out.
"Nothing, no-one, will ever separate us," Jack defiantly promises his terrified brother and sisters.
Six months pass and the children manage to placate the family's suspicious lawyer Tom (Kyle Soller) while Jack falls under the spell of a local girl called Allie (Anya Taylor-Joy).
As the salvation of Jack's 21st birthday approaches, supernatural disturbances intensify.
The Secret Of Marrowbone compels us to unravel the mystery of the family's dark past and second-guess the narrative curve balls that Sanchez might fling in his messy final act.
Mackay captures the fractured resolve of his reluctant "man of the house", who remains strong for his younger siblings to prevent the household teetering into hysteria.
Taylor-Joy, who was mesmerising in The Witch and Split, has a less showy role but she catalyses a warm on-screen chemistry with her leading man to offset the chill of unspeakable things that go bump in the night.
THE SECRET OF MARROWBONE (15, 110 mins) Thriller/Horror/Romance. George Mackay, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Mia Goth, Matthew Stagg, Kyle Soller, Nicola Harrison. Director: Sergio G Sanchez.
Released: July 13 (UK & Ireland)