Tuesday, 17 July 2018

The Secret Of Marrowbone

The Fours Of Perception

The Secret Of Marrowbone
(aka Marrowbone)

Spain 2017 Directed by Sergio G. Sánchez
UK cinema release print.

Surprisingly... since I didn’t rate the trailer for this one much and especially in regards to the fact that I generally expect films that have had a name change before they’re released in England to be quite bad (thus warranting said name change in the first place... this film was originally titled, plainly, Marrowbone in the stateside release)... it turns out that The Secret Of Marrowbone is actually quite a well put together movie.

Following a quite long pre-credits sequence involving a mother and her four children fleeing to a new, relatively isolated home after allegedly horrendous events involving her husband, the film’s credit finally comes up (after the mother has died and the children’s worrying father has just found them), with the titular secret still firmly in place. Time has moved on after the credits and the four children are waiting out the months, hiding in plain sight and maintaining the fiction that the mother is still alive until the oldest of the four, Jack, turns 21 and they can no longer be separated by the authorities.

The solid cast of four... Jack (George MacKay), Billy (Charlie Heaton), Jane (Mia Goth) and Sam (Matthew Stagg) have already befriended local librarian Allie during that opening sequence... played by Anya Taylor-Joy, who I’ve loved in everything I’ve seen her in so far with special shout outs to The VVitch (reviewed here), Morgan (reviewed here) and, to a lesser degree (although she was no less brilliant in it), Split (reviewed here). She is their ally but knows nothing of the hidden secret lurking in the new family unit, the discovery of which will eventually lead to a shift in her perceptions of what’s happening, to some extent.

Now, it would be inaccurate to say that I didn’t figure out the conclusion of the movie’s reveal here as we are getting fed clues as to what’s going on with regards to the ghosts of the house and such like all the way through the narrative. However, it would also be true to say the film took me by surprise at the end purely because, like one of those good old giallo thrillers of the 1970s, The Secret Of Marrowbone kind of presents us with so many possibilities of just what that secret could be that, by the end, you are bound to be focussing on one more than the other and, alas, I somehow failed to concentrate on the solution to the mystery that lay within for favour of another. So, unusually for me, the film retained its secret to some extent because of the almost needle in a haystack pursuit required to hit upon the right combination of story elements. Of course, once all is revealed you can look back at how things have been referred to in the story and how the true facts of things can sometimes lend possibilities which aren’t necessarily signposts to the true destination. For instance, when the importance of avoiding mirrors is raised a number of times early on in the film, it threw me off my original solution due to other possibilities that could be deduced from such a warning and all I can say about this is... very well played Mr. writer/director Sergio G. Sánchez.

The cast of the film all acquit themselves more than admirably and help lend credence, with the smoke and mirrors of their trade, to the mystery which slowly unfolds, in its own good time, as it is revealed to the audience a little before the people in the story, regarding their secret. And if that seems an absurdly enigmatic thing to say about the film here... I’m sorry but I don’t want to post any spoilers so these kind of verbal gymnastics are necessary to protect the secret as much as the Marrowbone children in the film would.

In some ways, the main protagonists, especially the four children who live in the house, are just like the inhabitants of an old Enid Blyton book like the Famous Five or Secret Seven and, honestly, I’d say that this is exactly how the movie plays out, in some respects. Like a children’s Enid Blyton adventure but, using the syntax of horror cinema in a few key places to add coal to the fire of the secret at the heart of the mystery. Whether this is, or is not, an actual horror film I shall leave for you to decide... except I shall say that, within my own strict definition of what comprises such an affair, I would argue that it definitely isn’t in any way a horror movie but that’s not to say the film doesn’t have some sinister and scary moments which horror fans will appreciate. And that stuff is all fairly well done here, too.

Mr. Sánchez’ direction, editing and use of slow camera over some nice shot compositions are all excellent and the score by Fernando Velázquez is typical of that composer’s work in this vein... that is to say it’s excellent, appropriate and possibly great as a stand alone listen (although I will have to wait until the CD arrives before I can confirm that last comment). Also, although she isn’t in it as much as the four other main protagonists, Anya Taylor-Joy’s presence lends the production a certain weight, not just in terms of her acting, which is always fine but, also, in the striking and slightly off kilter beauty she manages to project to the camera... a face not easily forgotten.

Perhaps the most unusual thing about The Secret of Marrowbone, though, is that it manages to tip its hat on the most important of the end reveals in a way that doesn’t provoke disappointment (at least not in this viewer) but in a way that one could go back to the film again and watch it as a completely different kind of experience to the first viewing. That is to say, the weight of the finality of the end solution and the, strange but possibly welcome ray of hope for at least two of the characters at the end of the movie, is not something that crushes the weight of the build up of the rest of the film and, instead, works hand in hand with the central logic of the piece in a way that doesn’t stifle your interest in the characters. Which sometimes happens in films with this kind of 11th hour plot reveal, it has to be said.

The Secret Of Marrowbone is a better movie than it’s currently being given credit for and certainly worthy of your time if you like a good old fashioned mystery with elements of the horror and supernatural thrown in as seasoning to the dish. Definitely one to check out if you have nothing else on.

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