MARROWBONE follows a family of English immigrants who move to America and change their name to get away from a traumatic past. Soon after arriving, their mother dies, and a stranger appears who shoots through a window. The movie then flashes forward six months. The mirrors are covered, and a strange stain keeps appearing on the ceiling. All the while the family quietly talk about a ghost haunting the house.
What starts as your typical ghost story is quickly muddled by too many subplots. The family has to keep their mother’s death a secret to remain together – until Jack (George MacKay) turns 21 and inherits the house. They retract from society, with only Jack occasionally heading into town. There are some tense scenes early on, especially with the family’s youngest, Sam (Matthew Stagg).
However, as the story progresses, the addition of several subplots, which are resolved by the end of the movie, complicate what otherwise could have been a relatively standard ghost story. The story slows down with incidentals and unnecessary deviations from the supernatural. Through the middle of MARROWBONE, the story balloons to encompass several moving parts, some of which feel forced and superfluous. As the movie heads toward its conclusion, the plot comes to a constrained point, with no questions left unanswered, but the payoff feels deflated. The climatic punch feels more like a feeble slap.
At its core, MARROWBONE is about a family’s fight to stay together and doing anything necessary for survival. Yes, the plot feels expansive, but the heart is about family, following four who have lost everything – their home country, their mother, and their safety. The familial bond is strong, itself a central character. You care for the family thanks to decent acting. No, there are no standouts, but that fits with the movie’s subdued aesthetic.
The set pieces are gorgeous, especially the dilapidated old house the family is living in. It’s almost a character itself, though it feels woefully underutilized. Exterior shots show an expansive mansion, but you only get to see a small portion of its winding interior. The movie, set in 1969, recreates rural Americana in such a nostalgic, innocent way, that you’d think writer and director Sergio G. Sánchez lived in a town just like the one in the movie.
For as convoluted as the plot is, MARROWBONE is watchable, and to some, an enjoyable ghost story. The movie doesn’t focus on the ghost, instead highlighting the family. If a few subplots were removed, or less prominent, MARROWBONE would border on a masterpiece. There’s just something amiss with it that keeps it inches away from being something spectacular.
MARROWBONE is a ghost story that falls victim to too many subplots, diminishing the movie’s climatic payoff.