When I first saw The Orphanage, I knew I had witnessed something special, which proved true when the film remained one of the best haunted house films of the decade. The atmospheric film blurs the line between the supernatural and reality, thanks to director J.A. Bayona and screenwriter Sergio G. Sánchez, which creates an alternate world where there is no distinction between the living and the dead. Written and directed by Sánchez, Marrowbone offers another thrilling drama that makes viewers question what is “real” and what’s in our minds, which might not offer as big of scares as The Orphanage but is still packed with interesting twists and turns.
In hopes of starting a new life in America, a family with a mysterious past moves into the mother’s former home after leaving England. Audiences discover that the father of the family had a violent history, resulting in the family abandoning him. When the mother passes away, it’s up to the children to take care of one another, using the money their mother obtained from the father to support themselves. The children attempt to move on with their lives, but their dark secret has a way of catching up with them, forcing the siblings to confront their past if they hope to have any future.
The film taps into classic horror allegories, with the ways in which the family’s past is manifested as some sort of malevolent spirit or presence, symbolizing the horrible things they did to escape their fate with their father. While some of these themes can feel a little hokey to some audiences, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Hitchcock or Hammer Studios films which attempt to imbue morality on a horror story instead of just filling it with frights. The biggest strength of Marrowbone is its cast, which is comprised by some of the bigger young stars who are making names for themselves in the genre world. From Split and The Witch star Anya Taylor-Joy to Stranger Things‘ Charlie Heaton to A Cure for Wellness‘ Mia Goth, these stars fully commit to the sometimes campy premise.
While there are plenty of horrific elements to the film, it’s not as straightforward a horror film as some might expect, with Sánchez focusing more on mood and tone than delivering jolting scares. There are still some startling moments, but, much like horror films from the ’50s and ’60s, the goal was to tell a dramatic narrative that was punctuated by frightening moments as opposed to a rollercoaster ride of gore. In that regard, it also feels reminiscent of M. Night Shyamalan’s works, who is arguably one of the biggest contemporary devotees of Hitchcock.
It’s difficult to dive too deep into the film’s narrative while also avoiding spoilers, with the film’s twists being some of the more effective storytelling moments. Some audiences are likely to anticipate some of the directions the film takes, though I didn’t see the narrative misdirects coming, ultimately resolving the film’s various dangling narrative threads.
Marrowbone might be short on nail-biting sequences, but it delivers audiences a nontraditional drama that has enough moments of terror to keep horror fans interested, anchored by solid performances and an eerie atmosphere.
Wolfman Moon Scale