House of horrors in rural America in 1969

House of horrors in rural America in 1969 Some of the cast of The Secret of Marrowbone


There’s a scene in this where a girl puts her hand into a hole in the ceiling with a morsel of food to feed a skunk that’s living in her attic. When she does so, a human hand fondles her. I don’t know about you, but if that happened to me I’d be out the door as fast as my legs could carry me. What does the girl do? She washes her hands.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: most people in horror films are masochists. Of course if they weren’t, there would be no movies. So you accept it, just like you accept everything else in these films that flies in the face of reason.

The haunted house scenario is as old as cinema itself. Here it’s a bit different because we see the person who’s haunting it. And he isn’t too scary – apart from being a ghost, that is. (Okay, so that’s a big ‘apart’. )

He’s the monstrous father of a British family of four.  Jack (George MacKay) is the eldest. He kills his father  – or does he? – and they all move to America to live in the house where their mother grew up.

She dies here. To get the house put into their names they have to pretend she’s still alive. This means forging her signature on the legal documents. Porter (Kyle Soller) is the lawyer they have to fool.

He wants to form a relationship with local girl Allie (Anya Taylor-Joy) but Allie is more interested in Jack. Will he cop onto the forged document and use it as a lever to prise Ellie away from Jack?

That’s just one of the issues in this fascinating film, which lodges itself somewhere between The Waltons and The Shining.  Another one is the sum of money they have to pay Porter to expedite the transaction. This has been retrieved from the dead father, so it’s blood money. It can’t bring them luck, can it?


There’s a big surprise towards the end which I won’t reveal. Sergio Sanchez directs with a mixture of warm family feeling and fear. You suspend disbelief and enter into his world wholeheartedly, even to the extent of thinking, “hmm, yes, a skunk would be nice as a pet all the same – you’d probably get used to the smell after a while”.

The cast is brilliant. Soller has one of those faces that’s straight out of the past. So is that of Jane (Mia Goth) one of the siblings. The other two have more contemporary faces but their acting is so good it makes this not a problem.

The tension builds nicely towards the grim finale. I expected a further shock in the epilogue like the one in Psycho where Anthony Perkins has the last laugh on all of us but we don’t get it. Maybe this is for the best. We’ve been through enough.

Very Good ****

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