'Marrowbone' Combines the Dread of Horror With the Dread of Coming-of-Age

In the tradition of classic gothic thrillers like Turn of the Screw and Watcher in the Woods, Marrowbone places children inside a mysterious mansion along with things that go bump in the night.

We meet the British Fairbairn family in 1969 as they are moving into a ramshackle seaside American Eden—their ailing mother’s childhood home. She was once a Marrowbone, which is also the name of her crumbling estate. “Our story begins here,” declares the mom, drawing a line on the dust-laden foyer floor and encouraging her kids to cross that line. Once they do, there’s no going back. No one speaks of their conspicuously absent father, but there are hushed whispers that someone from the past they’ve left behind wants to find them.

Mom’s illness catches up with her soon after they settle into the isolated Marrowbone family fortress, leaving the eldest son, Jack (George MacKay, Captain Fantastic) to care for his siblings. Refusing to break their bond or to allow social services to scatter them, the children make an oath that, from this point forward, “We are one.” They vow to keep their mom’s death a secret, and to care for themselves no matter how tough the going gets. Jack has his hands full with Billy (Charlie Heaton, Stranger Things), Jane (Mia Goth, A Cure for Wellness), and kid-brother Sam (Matthew Stagg, Mum’s List), plus a nosy but lovely young neighbor, Allie (Anna Taylor-Joy, Split). Add to the mix an estate lawyer named Tom (Kyle Soller, Poldark) and a few ghosts, and you have the recipe for an old-fashioned chiller.

When it comes to the chills, there are a few—but not a lot thrills, until the end when the mystery is revealed. Marrowbone is a slow-burn and while it may not be your typical horror movie, there are many moments of supernatural suspense and hair-raising “don’t go in there!” moments. Atmospheric cinematography brings their shadowy and sinister world into soft focus. The presence of phantoms is implied, but they’re seldom seen. The film is rated R, but it feels more like PG-13.

As far as character development goes, a love triangle of sorts forms between Jack, Allie, and lawyer Tom, painting Tom in a mildly villainous light as he becomes more suspicious about what’s going on inside Marrowbone Mansion.

The young cast is quite impressive, and their collective cinematic horror pedigree adds to the enjoyment. Goth’s gaunt face lends itself perfectly to the eerie feel of the film, while young Stagg’s chubby cheeks and easy smile makes him the ideal innocent in a den of dark secrets. The budding romance between Jack and Allie is sweet and believable, while Tom is, at times, a rather standard-issue baddie.

Savvy viewers will see the obligatory twist coming, but kiddoes new to the genre will probably be appropriately shocked. Marrowbone is a good one to watch on a gloomy afternoon.

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