If something defines the Gothic genre, it's the secrets. The dark and forbidden castles and the bleak páramos whipped by the wind certainly have their place in the canon, and so do the death threats and the signs of the supernatural. But it is certainly possible to tell an effective and chilling Gothic story in broad daylight if there are enough secrets suggesting darkness and danger. The gothic horror film Marrowbone by Sergio G. Sánchez is a perfect test. The story, about four brothers trapped in a decaying country mansion with a malevolent and invisible force, zigzags through the genres and provokes viewers with the various ways in which history could go. And it takes place mainly in rooms bathed in the sun and outdoors on summer days. That never stops it from being disturbingly creepy. And if it is a romantic haunted drama or a ghost story, it always feels as if it belonged to the Gothic realm. Its particular taste of refined and elaborate nightmare is unusual, but it is just as effective as any blood springer full of fear and full of fear.
George MacKay (How I Live Now) plays Jack, the older brother and the more overwhelmed by the responsibility of keeping the rest safe. When the story begins, his mother (Nicola Harrison) has expelled them from England, following an event initially not described with his father (Tom Fisher) that has left the whole family traumatized and obsessed with the possibility of finding them.
Her mother hopes they are safe in the family home she left 30 years ago, a beautiful old house but poorly maintained somewhere on the US coast, near a small town. But the trip and the stress have worn her out, and she gets sick and dies, leaving Jack, her sister Jane (Mia Goth) and her brothers Billy (Charlie Heaton) and Sam (Matthew Stagg) to fend for themselves. . Jack is 20 years old, and his mother orders him to bury her in the garden and keep his secret of death until he turns 21 when he can legally claim the house and become the guardian of his brothers. And then they start an elaborate simulation game with the local city, enduring and claiming that they are still taking care of their convalescent mother.
His death is a secret for the family, but the audience is involved and all the tension and danger of the discovery it brings. The rest of the revelations are more complicated. Suddenly, the film advances six months, and everything changes. Jack has a deep healing wound on his head, the mirrors of the house are covered or hidden, and Sam can not stop talking about the ghost that is hanging around the house and trying to reach them. The whole family has found an ally in a local girl, Allie (Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch, Morgan and Split), who is involved in a soft romance with Jack, and defends the family against outside suspects. But Billy is jealous and volatile about their relationship, Jane fears for some of the family's decisions, and Sam is worried about the ghost, but still feels driven to trespass the boundaries of his older siblings' control. Viewers are encouraged to guess what happened during the six-month history gap, but the details pile up carefully and deliberately, building the mystery before anything is revealed.
Sanchez is the screenwriter of the excellent and terrifying Spanish horror film The Orphanage, and his Marrowbone script follows some of the same ideas: a woman who returns to her childhood home in search of comfort, a horrible ghost that torments her, a guardian that can not be trusted, and a tone that deviates between terrifying and melancholic. But in his directorial debut, Sanchez makes many specific and distinctive decisions of his own.
The appearance of the film is particularly wonderful, not only its luminous and sunny quality, which is based largely on natural light, but on its sharpness and its dull color, which makes it look like a Vermeer painting. And the decaying house offers a lot of incredibly beautiful surroundings, through the rooms where the wallpaper is deformed and the roof is peeling slowly, one board at a time. The metaphor in all this decay and disintegration is clear: the family is crumbling under the weight of its past, both the choices they have made and those they have made for them. But the way Sanchez's camera moves around the house, giving the impression that it echoes in space and haunted halls, is equally important.
Image: Magnet release
And so is the fantastic cast. MacKay is particularly key. As the oldest of the group, Jack tries to be an adult for them. But he's still so painfully young, and he does not totally agree with playing the man of the house or dealing with obstacles like Tom Porter (Kyle Soller), an insinuating but-I'm-a-good-guy guy who chases after Allie. The role of MacKay is complicated. Jack is cocky in one moment and terrified in the next, and is constantly operating from a projected confidence that he does not really feel. MacKay cleverly and naturally traverses all his internal conflicts without being flashy about it. Heaton also has some strong moments as the second stubborn son, the one who is driven in physical conflicts and takes the lead when you need to do something disconcerting.
Taylor-Joy and Goth have less to do. Goth, in particular, is reduced to the persistent consciousness of the family, which places her in the unenviable place of complaining or offering to I-told-you-sos. And Allie is a problem for the movie, with an inconsistent character that forces Taylor-Joy to be quick and bold with Jack's family, but clumsily reluctant with Tom in a way that causes serious problems for everyone. More than anyone else in history, it is a plot device that changes from scene to scene to adapt to the latest needs of history. But Taylor-Joy gives it a shy and attractive warmth that makes up for it greatly. The cast usually works comfortably together, through a script that requires a lot of closeness and a lot of restraint.
Image; Magnet release
Marrowbone relies heavily on narrative tricks. In Britain and Spain, it is being released as The Secret of Marrowbone, which suggests how important it is to reveal the unfolding of the story, and Sanchez's attempts to hide information from the audience can be a bit clumsy, especially in that abrupt leap of six months . But, for the rest, his script is impeccably constructed, the kind of story in which every detail is carefully considered and is planned to be paid at some point. The movie sounds clearly and with many hits the first time. Like The Orphanage, this is an intelligent and psychological horror, but it is not above some evil fear jumps.
It's also the kind of movie that works even better the second time when viewers can trace all the little details that contribute to storytelling and see how evenly Sanchez played his mystery. Too many films that rely on secrets cease to be convincing once those secrets arise. Marrowbone simply becomes more convincing. It is one of the most immaculately crafted films of the year, and it is the kind of story that continues to elude conventions until the last opportunity. It fits perfectly into the Gothic genre, but innovates within it at the same time. Considering the minimal version that it has received and the little that the critics have lent to him, the film seems a well kept secret. It's just one that deserves to be much better known.
Marrowbone is currently in a limited theatrical performance and is available in VOD and in streaming version.