Thekla Reuten in Marionette (2022)
One of the ill-fated characters in Elbert van Strien's film Marionette explains that his purpose in this story is to stop the protagonist from thinking. “Don’t think; that’s where all the troubles begin.” Unfortunately this sentiment seems to have overextended to the filmmakers. For the way Marionette unfolds skirts on the surface of its premise and doesn’t delve deep enough to make a resonating impact on the viewer. Marionette tells the story of therapist Dr. Marianne Winter (Thekla Reuten), whose world falls apart when ten-year-old Manny (Elijah Wolf) claims he can control her future. Marianne’s beginnings are somewhat promising; the film introduces her on the move to Scotland. In an attempt to leave behind the residue of a traumatic event, she’s hopeful for a fresh start in life. However, another nightmare is waiting for her in Scotland, as the grey skies and moody atmosphere amplify. Marianne attempts to settle in her new job, the replacement for a children’s psychologist, and meets a troubled child whose drawings hold a strange power. Marionette ponders on the threads of discussing fate vs. free will. Who is pulling the strings of one’s life? How much power does one individual really have to change their own trajectory? Despite how open-ended such questions are, the film leaves nothing to the imagination, instead indulging in one ‘psychological thriller’ cliche after another.
However intriguing a concept is in theory, put into action without focus is another story. Marionette feels directionless; it’s a mystery to solve what van Strien is wanting to say, beyond blatantly pointing out the ‘marionette’ concept at any opportunity. Not much time is given for the viewer to feel connected to the protagonist, and get to know more about her. Marianne is very much in service to a lackluster plot. For a little while, the film begins with the promise of slowly introducing characters as pieces of a puzzle, each one potentially revealing more about what situation Marianne has gotten herself into in Scotland. But the promise for something intriguing quickly dissipates. The film is shrouded in mystery; not in the way that invites curiosity and encourages wonder, but at a level that’s puzzling and frustrating to surrender disbelief to.
Marianne is encouraged to entertain a fresh start; with a new job, a potential new companion, a new setting, the story sets up a whole other universe for her. Though much gloomier than the warm and fuzzy flashbacks she occasionally has of a past life. In Marianne’s new life, she is encouraged by colleagues not to go digging or ask questions, despite one child in particular exhibiting some disturbing behavior. The child is attracted to disasters like a magnet. His pictures each represent a horrific event that becomes real when he finishes drawing them. Like marionettes controlling puppets, these drawings seal fate on paper. The concept tries to create a narrative from the cliché often seen in horror movies of children drawing scary, alarming pictures meant to alert their guardians that something is wrong. But the film operates from a level of presuming the story is far cleverer than it is.
Marionette moves ten steps ahead of the story, and tacks on unnecessary narration from the protagonist spelling out what’s going on, which takes away greatly from the mystery of how the film will unfold. Muddled dialogue does the actors no favors; decent as most of them are, any sense of mystique is weighed down by an over explanatory screenplay. Unfortunately what’s left is an underwhelming piece of storytelling that buckles under the over reliance of its ‘marionette’ concept. Rather than see the story through with a coherent plot, van Strien spells out every twist and turn along the way. Ultimately taking the wind from its sails and leaving little to no room for the stakes to feel real.
Marionette is now available to watch on VOD.