The Secret of Marrowbone

It is traditional for the arrival at the safe place to be the end of the story, and for Rose and her four children, Jack, Jane, Billy and Sam, it is hoped that Marrowbone House will be that safe place to which they have travelled long and through hardships, the greatest of which remains unspoken, the reason they fled England to America to live anonymously.

They hope within the walls of that dilapidated, isolated house that they can begin their story anew and find another chance at the happiness which they lost, taking Marrowbone as their surname and living quietly a thousand miles away from their past; their mother weakening, Jack promises to her on her deathbed that he will keep the family together and hidden.

With it’s UK premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival The Secret of Marrowbone (El secreto de Marrowbone) is the feature directorial debut of Sergio G Sánchez but the Spanish director is not an unknown quantity, his scripts having twice been filmed by J A Bayona as the Gothic horror of 2007’s The Orphanage (El Orfanato) starring Belén Rueda and then 2012’s family drama The Impossible (Lo imposible) starring Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor and Tom Holland.

Though set in America, The Secret of Marrowbone was filmed entirely in Spain, the principal location only ten miles from where Sánchez was born and it carries with it the same mood as did The Orphanage, and where that film was built almost entirely around the performance of Rueda as the grieving mother who believes her missing son may be trying to communicate with her here it is Captain Fantastic‘s George MacKay who steps up as the undoubted man of Marrowbone House.

While Jane (A Cure for Wellness‘ Mia Goth) supports him and Sam (Matthew Stagg) is too young to question the strangeness of their sequestered lives, Billy (Stranger Things‘ Charlie Heaton) causes problems with his temper and his eagerness to explore beyond the confines of the house, but in the summer of 1969 despite the precautions they have taken the ghost finds them and will not leave.

Irrespective of the mention of the Moon landings in the background Marrowbone House is removed from any hint of modernity, Sánchez constructing his film around the creak of wood and the thump of hollow walls, the bricked up staircase to nowhere and the stain in the ceiling, the cracked mirrors covered in drapes so the ghost cannot see the fearful occupants who shun outside contact.

There is almost a Spielberg feeling to the sense of place and belonging the family initially enjoy, particularly Jack in his growing friendship with neighbour Allie (The Witch‘s Anya Taylor-Joy), but no situation can endure indefinitely, and under the long shadow of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle the family live in their fantasy amidst the decay.

Marrowbone a house of sadness, madness and tragedy, it lacks the sinister edge of The Orphanage, at times feeling more like a children’s adventure story, but also a sense of urgency, the subplot with Allie’s suitor (Monsters: Dark Continent‘s Tom Soller) a mechanical contrivance to deliver exposition, yet despite the relative paucity of Sánchez’ narrative he plays a final hand which requires reappraisal of the apparently flimsy house of cards he has built.

The Secret of Marrowbone is now available on DVD and digital download

The Edinburgh International Film Festival returns from Wednesday 19th to Sunday 30th June 2019