MARIONETTE movie poster | ©2021 Scatena & Rosner Films

MARIONETTE movie poster | ©2021 Scatena & Rosner Films

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Thekla Reuten, Emun Elliott, Sam Hazeldine, Bill Paterson, Rebecca Front, Elijah Wolf, Dawn Steele, Peter Mullan
Writers: Elbert van Strien and Ben Hopkins, based on a short film by Elbert van Strien
Director: Elbert van Strien
Distributor: Scatena & Rosner Films
Release Date: November 3, 2021

MARIONETTE succeeds in pulling the audience’s strings. After seeming to go in one direction for approximately its first half, the film swerves, then swerves again. Every time it seems to make a misstep, an explanation is sooner or later provided.

Based on a short film by Elbert van Strien, who directed and, with Ben Hopkins, co-wrote the feature, MARIONETTE is a rare film that defies us to guess exactly where it’s going, while playing fairly with laying out its clues.

At the outset, a ranting man (Peter Mullan) sets himself on fire and falls from a tower.

We then meet Dr. Marianne Turner (Thekla Reuten), who we hear in voiceover mulling over how depressing she finds airports. Marianne is a child psychiatrist. She has relocated to Scotland for a new job, following a tragedy in New York. (To save readers from thinking the film expects us to buy Dutch actor Reuten’s accent as authentically New York, Marianne explains she’s not American, she just lived there a long time.)

Marianne has been brought in to replace Dr. McVittie, who began to suffer psychiatric issues of his own. The patients Marianne inherits are children who are deeply troubled. One of these is Manny (Elijah Wolf), a young boy who prefers drawing to talking.

Manny’s artwork is mostly of violent scenes and disasters: car wrecks and tidal waves. When Manny does speak to Marianne, she learns that he hasn’t spoken to anyone else.

At the same time, Marianne is befriended by flirtatious local book dealer Kieran (Emun Elliott), who belongs to a book club that meets to discuss esoteric matters like the meaning of Schrödinger’s cat.

Between the esoteric musings of the book club and the seeming correlation between Manny’s drawings and actual events, Marianne starts to believe something paranormal is going on. Her question: is Manny foreseeing catastrophic events, or actually causing them?

Here discussion of the plot must stop, for fear of spoilers. Suffice to say that van Strien and Hopkins have taken great care in their construction, and given Marianne a rich, if sorrowful, inner life.

Van Strien also creates potent atmosphere, using Scotland’s rainy beauty to strong advantage, and establishing a fine-looking upstage New York (these sequences were apparently shot in the Netherlands).

Reuten is magnetic and invites empathy, even when Marianne acts out in ways that seem ill-advised. Wolf is properly equal parts eerie and infuriating as Manny, and Elliott is very likable as Marianne’s charming new friend. Besides Mullan, Scottish acting stalwart Bill Paterson is also part of the supporting cast.

MARIONETTE is so committed to its goals that it even manages to mislead us about its ultimate philosophy. It’s only when we get to the last few scenes where we discover what the filmmakers are actually talking about, but they reach their conclusion honestly. It may have less impact than intended, but it’s still an impressive achievement.

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