★★ out of ★★★★★
In spite of some pretty camera work, Gary Oldman and Emily Mortimer couldn’t bail water fast enough to keep this movie afloat.
Directed by Michael Goi
Maritime horror! Who doesn’t love a good ghost ship or Bermuda Triangle story? All hands mysteriously lost at sea; abandoned boat found drifting across the waves. No sign of piracy or foul play…
Stories like these are as old as ships themselves and for good reason. Even today, when it comes to fear of the unknown the open ocean sits high on a very short list with its impenetrable depths and complete isolation. You’d think with such a rich history of seafaring myths and legends you could retell an oft told yarn pretty easily. Especially after you somehow managed to rope in someone with an impressive acting pedigree like Gary Oldman! Sadly, an actor can only do so much.
Mary (2019) tells the tale of a family looking for a change. Husband David [Gary Oldman; The Dark Knight Rises (2012)] is dissatisfied with his current job while his wife, Sarah [Emily Mortimer; Mary Poppins Returns (2018)], just wants everyone in the family to be happy again.
David quits his job as captain of a chartered fishing boat and decides to work for himself. The first thing he needs is a ship to call his own and that’s when we meet Mary. Much like the Overlook Hotel drew Jack Torrance to her in Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), Mary the sailboat calls to David. Or, at least, sometimes she does.
There’s also a background story that has to do with David and Sarah working to repair a rift in their relationship caused by Sarah’s marital indiscretion. However, this subplot of infidelity comes off as being more filler than an actual storyline; rearing its head at odd times and never amounting to anything. Much like Sarah had trouble staying faithful to David, the entire movie has trouble staying faithful to its own storylines.
After getting the ship all fixed up in a smiling montage of happy familyness, the crew take her out for her freshly renovated maiden voyage. David and Sarah bring along their two daughters, Lindsey [Stefanie Scott; Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015)] and Mary [Chloe Perrin; Itsy Bitsy (2019)], as well as Lindsey’s boyfriend Tommy and first mate Mike.
As is customary, youngest daughter Mary is the first to be affected by evil sailboat Mary in Mary, but sailboat Mary doesn’t stop there. She’s more of an an equal opportunity people possessor; shifting her evil influence from one person to another, depending on how much easier it would be for the writer when coming up with the screenplay.
Not that the ideas behind the story were bad. I’m sure it made for a riveting outline when the writing started out — mysterious boat with a deadly history going back decades, a terrorized family stranded at sea, throw in something about a witch who steals children… all great ideas! Unfortunately, it’s like they forgot to fill in all the details before they started shooting. The result is an anemic composite of jump scares and ocean views.
Director Michael Goi has spent most of his career as a cinematographer or director of photography. And, with nearly 40 years under his belt in that aspect of filmmaking, Mary does have some nicely shot scenes. Unfortunately, pretty pictures and a decent premise do not a horror movie make.
So, there is something about Mary, but that “something” is a cautionary tale about the limits of starpower when the rest of your celluloid canoe is chock-full of holes.
Review by Robert Zilbauer.