"THE SECRET OF MARROWBONE" — 2½ stars — George MacKay, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Matthew Stagg, Mia Goth, Nicola Harrison; R (some violence); Tower
Sergio G. Sanchez's "The Secret of Marrowbone" is a quiet horror film that feels removed from time and even strains against its genre.
The story follows a small group of siblings that takes refuge in a large and creepy old house on the American East Coast during the late 1960s. We meet them as they arrive with their mother (Nicola Harrison), on the run from some unnamed trouble back home in England.
Collectively, the family changes its surname to Marrowbone (after their mother's maiden name) and for a time, things are happy as the children become friends with a neighbor girl named Allie (Anya Taylor-Joy).
Unfortunately, the family's new start takes a dark turn when the mother succumbs to a fatal illness, leaving the children under the care of the eldest brother, Jack (George MacKay). Jack vows to protect his three younger siblings — Sam (Matthew Stagg), Jane (Mia Goth) and Billy ("Stranger Things'" Charlie Heaton) — and together they work to carry on the impression that their mom is still alive in order to prevent outside forces from breaking up the family.
Naturally, outside forces quickly conspire against the Marrowbone kids. Their reclusive behavior arouses the suspicions of Porter (Kyle Soller), the man responsible for managing the ownership of the home. Porter is also jealous of Jack's budding relationship with Allie, who has been resisting Porter's advances for some time.
The bigger threat is a little more supernatural, however, and gradually the story reveals that the children believe they are haunted by the ghost of their father (Tom Fisher), a convicted mass murderer. Jack especially feels sensitive about this, since he worries that Allie will reject him if she learns about his troubled past.
There's quite a bit more to the story, though, and "Marrowbone" slowly reveals mysterious bits and pieces that finally start to fall into place once a substantial third-act twist tries to bring the film to a close. While it isn't the most satisfying finale, it exceeds a lot of the horror options that come down the road (though right now, "A Quiet Place" is still the runaway winner).
To be clear, horror only feels like a loose match in describing "Marrowbone," which often feels just as at home as a suspenseful thriller. Sanchez's film, which tends to be pretty low-key and slow-moving, isn't trying to constantly pepper the audience with jump scares, and even its conservative violence and gore seems on the soft side for an R-rated film.
"Marrowbone" is primarily built as a love story for Jack and Allie, and fans will appreciate the presence of Taylor-Joy, who has already built a budding horror resume with appearances in 2016's "Split" and 2015's "The Witch." MacKay also works hard as Jack, gradually becoming the centerpiece of the film in a way that isn't apparent early on.
Even though the film is placed in the late 1960s, its focus on universal themes of family and loneliness make "The Secret of Marrowbone's" setting and details fade into the background. It's not the best horror movie you're going to find, but it will do on a quiet evening when you can hear noises in the attic.
"The Secret of Marrowbone" is rated R for some violence; running time: 110 minutes.