Screenwriter Sergio G. Sánchez has written some incredible films, but he has never been given a shot at directing. Repeatedly turned down by several production companies to direct The Orphanage, he had to see his screenplay be masterfully directed by J.A. Bayona, who also directed his other screenplay (The Impossible). With Marrowbone, Saánchez finally has the chance to turn his own screenplay into a film, but unfortunately, the result is a mixed bag.
In 1969, the Marrowbone family, comprised of mother Rose (Nicola Harrison) and children Jack (George Mackay), Billy (Charlie Heaton, Stranger Things), Jane (Mia Goth, A Cure for Wellness) and Sam (Matthew Stagg), moves to America to escape their villainous patriarch. Shortly after settling in, Rose becomes ill and, before she dies, makes Jack promise to not tell anyone about her death until he is 21 and legally able to care for his siblings. One day, a bullet flies through one of the windows, scaring the children. The film then flashes forward six months and sees the children living in the now-dilapidated house that now houses a mysterious ghost. Further complicating matters is curious lawyer Tom (Kyle Sollner), who is trying to complete the Marrowbones’ legal matters while also competing for Allie’s (Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch, Split) affections with Jack. Oh, and there’s also a mystery about the Marrowbone patriarch’s murderous past and hidden blood money.
If it sounds like there’s a lot going on in Marrowbone, it’s because there is. Marrowbone just has too much going on to make it a compelling film. The film’s excruciatingly long 110 minutes are filled to the brim with subplot after subplot, which prevents the buildup of any actual tension. In attempting to be a period drama, a romance, a ghost story and a mystery, Marrowbone tries to have its cake and eat it too. None of the films it tries to be is wholly successful because none of them are given enough attention. By the time the twists start piling up in the third act, the viewer’s reaction will be one of relief rather than satisfaction. That’s not something you want for your film. Speaking of those twists, Sánchez dips into the same well he did with The Orphanage as well as films like (this is spoiler-y, so view/highlight at your own risk) The Boy and Housebound.
The performances are all solid, however, with Mackay carrying the film for the most part. Mia Goth, who showed promise in last year’s A Cure for Wellness, is equally strong in her scenes. Taylor-Joy, as talented as she is, could have been completely excised from the film and it wouldn’t make much of a difference. This is a shame considering she’s one of the most talented members of the cast, but she is given the thankless role of the concerned love interest. Her scenes with Mackay are so few that you’re never able to fully buy into their relationship, which severely diminishes the dramatic effect of the film’s climax.
What the film does have going for it is Sánchez’s directing. For a first time director, the man shows remarkable confidence behind the camera. The man clearly has an affinity for Gothic cinema, and his Spanish influences are apparent in many of the settings. He also proves adept at crafting scares, though those scenes are few and far between. The Marrowbone house is a creepy-looking thing, and the film gives off a notable sense of claustrophobia once the camera journeys into its nooks and crannies.
If you’re looking for a new twist on a ghost story, you could do a lot worse than Marrowbone, but you could also do a lot better. It’s a shame that Sánchez didn’t devote enough time to his screenplay as he did to his directing, as the film is rather beautiful and well-made. He just tries to cram far too much into one film. Ultimately, Marrowbone is an ambitious failure, and that alone almost makes it worth a watch.
Marrowbone is currently available on iTunes, Amazon Instant and other VOD services.