29th Aug2019

Frightfest 2019: ‘Mary’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Gary Oldman, Emily Mortimer, Stefanie Scott, Chloe Perrin, Jennifer Esposito, Owen Teague, Manuel Garcia-Ruffalo | Written by Anthony Jaswinski | Directed by Michael Goi


Directed by Michael Goi, this aquatic chiller is a scary boat movie about a spooky yacht named Mary. As such, it has a decent cast and an intriguing set-up. However, Mary the movie starts taking on water even before Mary the scary boat does, and the whole thing eventually sinks under the weight of its accumulated clichés.

The story is told mostly in flashback, as distressed mother Sarah (Emily Mortimer) recounts her tale of woe to sceptical police detective Lydia (Jennifer Esposito), after being found floating in the ocean. It had all started so well: Sarah’s husband David (Gary Oldman) had bought an old boat (albeit one with a somewhat chequered history) and they had set sail for the Bahamas, accompanied by their two daughters, Lyndsey and Mary (Stefanie Scott and Chloe Perrin), as well as their trusted boat-hands, Michael (Manuel Garcia-Ruffo) and Lyndsey’s boyfriend Tommy (Owen Teague).

However, it isn’t long before strange things start happening aboard ship, from young Mary suddenly gaining an imaginary friend to crew members getting inexplicably locked in tight spaces and the boat somehow veering off course. Sarah quickly comes to believe that the boat is, literally, a vessel for evil. But what does it want? And will Lydia believe Sarah’s scary boat story or have her put away for murder?

Mortimer and Oldman are convincing as a married couple who are trying to piece their relationship back together after a recent incident and Goi creates a nice sense of simmering family tension even before the boat sets sail. That said, there is an odd moment where you realise Oldman and Mortimer are both British actors playing Americans, so why didn’t they just make them British characters? As for the rest of the cast, there’s strong work from Scott (who clearly blames her mother for whatever happened in the past) and Perrin flits nicely between cute and creepy as required, though both Teague and Garcia-Ruffalo are saddled with embarrassingly under-written characters, one of whom barely appears on screen at all, even though they’re all in the same boat.

Having worked on episodes of American Horror Story, Goi knows a thing or two about creating a creepy atmosphere and he duly does the business here, making full use of the boat’s claustrophobic interiors and orchestrating a decent handful of the requisite jump scares. However, the simple fact of the matter is that, for a scary boat movie, the boat just isn’t scary enough. Part of that is due to a poorly conceived central threat – there’s a disconnect between what we actually see happening and what we’re told is the nature of the threat on board (a caption at the beginning of the film lays out a local legend, in case we were in any doubt).

On top of that, the various spooky occurrences are things that audiences will have seen hundreds of times before (child drawing creepy pictures, possessed crew member, ghost that only appears to the audience, that sort of thing), while the climax of the film is deeply disappointing, suggesting that a number of key scenes ended up on the cutting room floor (something that was more or less confirmed by the director in a Q&A). After all, the bare minimum you expect from a scary boat movie is some clarity over just how the characters meet their watery ends, but that’s not the case here.

Ultimately, Mary just about passes muster as forgettable Friday night scare fare, but it’s not exactly ship-shape and Bristol fashion when it comes to delivering actual horror.

**½  2.5/5

Mary screened on Saturday August 24th as part of the 2019 Arrow Video Frightfest.


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