The Secret of Marrowbone (3 stars)

The Secret of Marrowbone

Measured haunted house horror that delivers in detail what it lacks in scares

Although Sergio G Sánchez wrote 2012's Oscar-nominated tsunami drama The Impossible for JA Bayona, he's best known for his script for the director's celebrated 2007 horror The Orphanage. With Bayona executive producer this time around, Sánchez's directorial debut represents a superior haunted house story, with a wealth of detail that makes up for a lack of scares.

The superb cast will largely be familiar to genre fans. George MacKay from Stephen King's 11.22.63 TV series plays Jack, who arrives in the United States with a missing father, an ailing mother and consequent family responsibilities. When his mother passes away, Jack falls short of the required age to legally take care of his siblings, and aims to protect Jane (A Cure for Wellness's Mia Goth), young Sam (Matthew Stagg), and Billy (Stranger Things' Charlie Heaton) by creating the illusion that she is still alive. Jack's plan is aided by local librarian Allie (Anya Taylor-Joy from The Witch), but their deception makes Jack vulnerable to blackmail, and things are further complicated when a reminder of the family's dark past arrives.

Sánchez's measured approach may try the audience's patience, as it's a good 40-minutes before the first proper fright. Yet the slow, stately build-up pays off in the second hour as the secrets of the Marrowbone family are agonisingly revealed. The script deals with issues of domestic abuse and violence, before things take a supernatural twist. Thrill-seekers are likely to be disappointed but anyone searching for an improvement on the usual mechanical ghost-train high jinks will be rewarded by a sober, well-constructed riff on classic genre tropes.

General release from Fri 13 Jul.

The Secret of Marrowbone

  • 3 stars
  • 2018
  • Spain
  • 1h 50min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Sergio G Sánchez
  • Cast: George MacKay, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton
  • UK release: 13 July 2018

Jack (MacKay) cares for his siblings and ailing mother; when his mother dies, he and local librarian Allie (Taylor-Joy) try to protect the family by creating the illusion that she’s still alive. A wealth of detail in this haunted house story makes up for a lack of scares, and it’s a sober, well-constructed riff on genre…