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danielcollins
25th March 2024

Queen of Bones review: Folk tale falls flat in Martin Freeman drama | MFF 2024

Witch potions, dramatic wind and a religious Martin Freeman can’t save this generic Great Depression era folk tale.
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Queen of Bones review: Folk tale falls flat in Martin Freeman drama | MFF 2024
Credit: Queen of Bones @ MFF 2024

Despite being one of the higher pedigree titles at the Manchester Film Festival this year, Queen of Bones fails to live up to its star power and plot promises. Told in short chapters complete with prologue and epilogue, the film takes the structure of folk tales as the plot focuses on twin siblings Lily (Julia Butters) and Sam (Jacob Tremblay).

Both are coming of age and beginning to have questions about their absent mother whom their father Malcolm (an unassuming but lightly menacing Martin Freeman) told them died during childbirth. These questions then unravel into a search for a witch as they explore their rural surroundings in Oregon, think a Cabin in the Woods setting except it’s Great Depression-era America. 

The plot develops from there and predictably so, hitting all the familiar beats of a folk horror. Although it would probably be unfair to characterise this as horror though as much of the film relies more on period drama infused with religious theming, the fact is that the most effective scenes are when the film leans into its genre conventions and isn’t afraid to get a little silly. Martin Freeman being enraged with the power of God and monologuing about sin will never not be enjoyable.

Unfortunately, these moments are sparse and shrouded in a film which does little to provide any sense of atmosphere beyond the use of wind and candles. Therefore, the quieter moments, like any of the failed attempts to make us care about the sibling relationship at the centre of it, end up feeling like filler. And when that is most of your film then you begin to have a problem.

There are efforts made to flesh out the time period by introducing subplots of alcohol smuggling or Sam’s interest in the newly emerging world of automobiles but they end up feeling like lazy (and extremely obvious) window dressing when the primary plot and characters they hang on is so thin. 

Nevertheless, the supporting character of Ida is one of these efforts which does work as Taylor Schilling understands the kind of movie she is in, leaning into her supposed religious piety whilst also being the forbidden fruit of Malcolm’s affection. She plays a local businesswoman who makes occasional visits to the cabin with groceries and guides Malcolm in his parenting when the mother is now gone.

Freeman and Schilling play off each other with real chemistry but as good as their scenes are they make us wish for a different film where the focus wasn’t so readily returning to what is unfortunately two rather underdeveloped central characters. 

Not as silly and fun as Stranger Things nor as gripping and atmospheric as The Witch, Queen of Bones fails to capitalise on its potential and leaves you with a painfully generic drama despite the occasional flash of intrigue. 

2/5

Queen of Bones screened as part of Manchester Film Festival 2024

Daniel Collins

Daniel Collins

Head film editor and writer for The Mancunion.

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