When their mother dies, eldest son Jack (MacKay) assumes parental control, promising to keep his three younger siblings safe. Predominantly from their dangerous father, who has been looking for the family ever since they escaped England to the secluded American country estate they now dwell. As Jack becomes enamoured with local librarian Allie (Taylor-Joy), sparking rivalry with love interest Tom (Kyle Soller), something stirs in the attic. Dark stains appear on the ceilings. And the kids scramble to hide under a makeshift hut in an unused room when the cracked mirrors lose their coverings.
The timeline. This is what will cause heads to scratch as 'Marrowbone' draws to a close. Writer and director Sergio G. Sanchez (he wrote 'The Impossible' and 'The Orphanage' – 'Marrowbone' is his directorial debut) likes to drop in short moments that could be either from the past or from some point in the story the audience has yet to experience. One such moment has the family’s father (Tom Fisher) take a pot shot at the house with a rifle, almost hitting daughter Jane (Mia Goth) – but is this a moment set before the mother died, encouraging the family to run, or is it happening now? It’s a confusing but ultimately rewarding tactic.
Like in 'The Orphanage', it’s the bright set that catch the eye: set in a sunny 1969 the lack of darkness and shadows and having all the spookiness play out during the day actually ramps up the tension rather than scuppering it. Sanchez plays around with expectations, working hard to escalate arguments, making the audience believe things are going to kick off, before immediately diffusing them. Over time this can unsettle, make one anxious. And is it a ghost in the attic? Have they a prisoner up there? Their father? Why is Jack the only one allowed into town? And what’s with the mirrors?
While the unconventional unfolding of the narrative will disappoint some no one can accuse the cast of not being up for it. MacKay is one the most underrated actors around, exceling in 'For Those In Peril' and 'How I Live Now', and he carries the film here, toeing a fine line between unhinged and edgy. After 'The Witch' and 'Split', Taylor-Joy shows again she can do more than just look scared while Soller gladly accepts the unnecessary yet welcome expanded role for the story’s minor villain.