Screenwriter Sergio G. Sánchez (The Orphanage, The Impossible) makes the leap to feature film director with Marrowbone, a gorgeously crafted supernatural drama centered on a group of siblings (played by George MacKay, Mia Goth, Charlie Heaton, and Matthew Stagg) who must contend with an unseen force that tortures them endlessly while they live tucked away from the world at their deceased mother’s family estate. The Marrowbone clan experience moments of happiness—especially when they befriend a lovely librarian named Allie (Anya Taylor-Joy)—but there are dark forces at play that threaten the bonds of their familial unit, and they must all band together to survive.

Daily Dead recently spoke with Sánchez about his big screen debut, and he discussed the timeless stories that have inspired him as a filmmaker, putting together the extremely talented ensemble of Marrowbone, finding the timeless locale of the film, and much more.

Marrowbone hits limited theaters and various digital platforms on Friday, April 13th, courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

Great to speak with you today, Sergio. I know you're no stranger to the horror genre, so I would love to start off by talking a little bit about what inspired the story of Marrowbone. There are aspects of your story that feel timeless and I love that it takes a very surprising turn towards the end, too.

Sergio G. Sánchez: Well, I think my first exposure to horror was through literature. The stories of Edgar Allan Poe, which I read when I was ten years old or something like that, made a big impact on me. The next thing I read was The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. I remember reading it and expecting to be afraid of horror stories and being slightly, I don't know if "disappointed" is the word, but really confused by the end because the story really doesn't offer you any clear answer. You have to decide for yourself what you want the story to be.

Then I continued by reading the books of Shirley Jackson, especially We Have Always Lived in the Castle, that type of horror that somehow seeps in through the cracks. It's never upfront, the horror comes from the part of the story that is never told, and that's what I was trying to do in Marrowbone. All of the horrific elements happen off-screen, or in the past, or somewhere that you don't see, and the film almost works as a puzzle. And it's only once you fit all the pieces of the puzzle together that you can envision the whole story and that's where the horror comes from. You realize what's happened that you never got to see. That's the kind of horror that I feel most drawn to.

I love this cast, and I really fell in love with these characters, too. I was pretty familiar with Anya, Charlie, and Mia, but George was something of a revelation to me, and he’s so good in this as well. Can you talk about working with them and developing these really great dynamics between them all?

Sergio G. Sánchez: It was a beautiful process, because our casting director was Karen Lindsay-Stewart, who is a London-based casting director. She cast all the Harry Potter films, so she knows all the kids in the UK, who at the time were around ten years old through their early 20s. So, she had an amazing database full of these young British actors. The challenge was doubled because I had to find the right actors to play the core family of Jane, Jack, Billy, and Sam, but also, I had to find a group that you could believe as a family. I saw lots of actors, maybe around 2000 actors, for this movie and there were so many great options.

The first one in the cast was Mia Goth, who plays Jane. She played an incredible audition and I immediately offered her the role on the spot. But then I got a bit of a telling off by my producer, because he's like, "No, you're supposed to see all of them." But I felt sincerely that she was Jane, and that's what started everything, and that helped me choose the rest.

The next one was Charlie, who at the time I had never seen. Shut In had not been released and he did our test right after he had shot the first season of Stranger Things. Actually, it was very funny because when Stranger Things went on air, it was the second week that we were shooting the movie, and we were shooting in this very small town in the north of Spain. It was a big lesson on how the world of distribution is changing, because suddenly someone can become a star worldwide overnight. We went home quietly on a Friday night and when we came back on Monday morning, we had 20 teenagers at the gate of the set screaming, "Charlie, Charlie." It was quite disquieting and strange.

Then, there was the character of Jack. It took me a while to decide on a Jack, as there were so many great actors that I had to give some of them the last scene to see the one who would be able to bring the whole family together. We auditioned him [MacKay] three times, actually. The first time he only had some type of separate scene. Then I gave him the whole script, so he could get a clear idea of who Jack was. Then after that, I went to see him. He was doing The Caretaker in London, the Harold Pinter play. He was so incredibly good in that play, so completely different from what he had done during his audition, that I called him once more and said, "Wait a minute. I think we need to play more with this." In the end, he was absolutely fantastic.

And, of course, there's Anya Taylor-Joy, who I had seen only in The Witch at the time, though she hasn't stopped working since and it doesn't look like she's ever going to stop. But Anya's a phenomenal actress and I'm sure all of them are going to be big stars. When I look back on this film in ten years, I'm not going to believe how lucky I was to get them all together.

Yeah, it turned out well for you. And for as great as this cast is, too, I loved the setting of Marrowbone in terms of this house, because it almost becomes a character as well, especially in the latter half of the film. How did you find this locale and what was your approach in utilizing it visually for Marrowbone?

Sergio G. Sánchez: The thing is, this house is only a few miles from the town where I was born. I had driven past this house many, many times when I was younger, and it's been abandoned for 50 years or something like that. I finally got a hold of the owner and I visited it. I knew that I wanted to shoot in a real house, I didn't want to shoot this on a sound stage. That's one of the small problems I had with The Orphanage. I always felt that the sound stage look was very stylized, but I missed the realness of having a real location. It was crucial to me to find a real house. For references, I showed my cinematographer and costume designer the paintings of Andrew Wyeth. We were looking for a house like that. Of course, we had to cover the whole house in wood. We did a lot of redesigning in the house, too, and things like that.

But when I visited it for the first time, it had these three stairways in the house: one that leads up to the attic, the one from the kitchen area to the bedrooms, and the one under the big mirror. I felt that there was something so odd and strange in those stairways that you could never reproduce that on a sound stage. Plus, the house has so many windows and it's surrounded by the woods. It was such a lovely place that the actors wanted to live there, and I knew it was the right house.

All the genre elements in this story work really, really well here, but for me, what makes this film really special is that it taps into this idea of love, and love being able to overcome these horrible things. These days, when the world is filled with so much ugliness, it's a powerful statement for you to make as a filmmaker.

Sergio G. Sánchez: I was a little worried that some people might be, not offended, but a little put off by the message at the very end of the movie. But to me, I always say this movie starts off as a family drama, and then it becomes a mystery, and then it becomes almost a ghost story that becomes a thriller. Every ten minutes something strange happens that makes you rethink everything you've seen before. The movie changes identity before we get to the innermost ball of truth. But at the core of it all, Marrowbone is a love story. Not only romantic love, but it's a story about the ties that bind us together that cannot be broken, and how love is attuned to overcome even the most horrific things that may happen to us. I felt like this story needed love to balance against everything else that happens.

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.