The story circles around a child psychiatrist Dr. Marianne Turner (Thekla Reuten) who relocates to Scotland from America for a new job. Why did she move to Scotland? “I like rain,” she says.
She replaces Dr. McVittie, who left after psychiatric issues prevented him from properly treating his patients. One of those patients, 10-year-old Manny (Elijah Wolf) is a curly-haired boy with a faraway look who expresses himself through his drawings. “He’s a mystery,” Turner says. “My impression is that his world view is some sort of defence system, a fortress.”
Turns out, Turner is the only doctor Manny has ever spoken to. Usually, he communicates solely through his pictures, drawings of violence and disaster. As Dr. Turner settles into her new job, she makes friends with Kieran (Emun Elliott) at a book club where they discuss the mind-bending thought experiment of Schrödinger’s cat among other high-minded ideas. “We all need to see a psychiatrist if we think this is a good way of passing the evening,” Dr. Turner jokes at the end of a club meeting.
Soon, strange things start happening. Mysterious phone calls suggest, “You have to kill him before he kills you,” as Manny continues to draw unsettling images. Dr. Turner soon makes a connection between Manny’s drawings and real-life events. “You draw a lot of accidents and disasters, don’t you Manny?” she says. “What are you thinking of when you draw them?”
Leaving science and the metaphysical cat behind, she looks to the paranormal to determine whether Manny is predicting the calamitous events or causing them. “What’s in there,” she asks, pointing to a large portfolio of his pictures. “The future,” he says.
“Marionette” is a gloomy psychological drama that effectively creates an atmosphere of tension throughout. Co-writer and director Elbert van Strien weaves ambitious ideas into the story, elevating a pulpy story to something approaching gothic proportions.
Dr. Turner arrives in Scotland with the baggage of a dead husband she left behind in the States, and her grief informs the story and her reactions to the situations she finds herself in. Dutch actress Reuten—her uneven accent is explained away with a quick, “Oh, I’m not American. I just lived there for a long time.”—brings the complicated doctor to life in a performance that is equal parts anguish, intellectual curiosity, paranoia and empathy. Her quest for the disturbing truth takes her to some uncomfortable places, but Reuten keeps us interested.
Reuten may provide the heart of “Marionette,” but it is Wolf who brings the creepy kid vibe that is the movie’s engine. With a relatively small amount of screen time, he makes a startling impression with his mannered speech and wide eyes.
“Marionette” spends a bit too much time on its philosophical underpinnings. It asks big questions like, Do we have free will or are we simply marionettes dangling on the end of a string operated by something or someone we don’t understand? without truly exploring them. Also, a bit of knowledge on Schrödinger’s cat might give you a leg up. Or not, depending on how deeply you become invested in the story. Either way , these aspect of the storytelling hammer their points home with a sledgehammer when a tap would have sufficed.
A late movie twist subverts some of what came before, but before it disappears down its philosophical rabbit hole, “Marionette” is an enjoyable Hitchcockian story.