Mary, the new film starring Gary Oldman and Emily Mortimer, is being marketed as a horror movie, but it should more accurately be described as a mystery. It would, after all, take a sleuth of Hercule Poirot-like talents to discern what attracted these supremely talented (not to mention, in the case of one of them, Oscar-winning) thespians to such lame, cliched material. Considering that Mary isn’t a major studio release, even the money couldn’t have been that good.
Not that either performer looks like they’re going through the motions in this waterlogged effort written by Anthony Jaswinski (who mined nautical territory to better results in The Shallows) and directed by Michael Goi (American Horror Story). Oldman plays David, a sailboat captain tired of working for others and barely making ends meet, while Mortimer is his wife Sarah, who we eventually learn committed a major marital transgression.
Don’t Academy Awards count for anything more?
The story is told in the form of an extended flashback, related by Sarah to a suspicious detective (Jennifer Esposito), which tends to subtract from the suspense since we know at least her character turned out okay. The events were set in motion months earlier when David impulsively purchased an abandoned boat, named Mary (also the name of the couple’s youngest daughter), so decrepit it barely qualifies as a fixer-upper. Sarah is initially aghast, but eventually gets on board both literally and figuratively. After the requisite renovation montage, the boat sets sail with its passengers including teenage daughter Lindsey (Stefanie Scott) and her younger sibling Mary (Chloe Perrin), first mate Mike (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and deckhand Tommy (Owen Teague), the last also serving as Lindsey’s love interest.
The ominous masthead featuring a sculpture of a woman’s head is enough to indicate that things aren’t going to go well. Sure enough, the vintage vessel seems to be demonically possessed, causing all sorts of mayhem. One night, Tommy, apparently in a trance, cuts himself and then attacks David with the same knife. Little Mary starts acting weirdly as well, drawing disturbing pictures. And Sarah begins having some very bad nightmares. David, on the other hand, refuses to believe that there’s anything wrong, despite all evidence to the contrary.
It’s all very familiar haunted-house stuff, except on the open seas. It isn’t until midway through the pic that Sarah decides to do some online sleuthing and discovers that the ship has a very violent history (you’d think a little research would have been in order before such a major purchase, but no).
Director Goi provides a reasonable number of effective jump scares, but nothing sticks because the story is so devoid of emotional or thematic resonance. There are attempts at psychological drama in the form of David and Sarah’s marital issues and Lindsey’s teenage angst, but they’re handled in such cursory fashion that nothing makes an impact.
Oldman handles his nondescript role with his usual professionalism, but there’s not much for him to do other than frequently look really worried. Mortimer actually carries the picture much more on her shoulders, gamely managing the intense physical demands placed on her like a trouper. Both performers somehow manage to give the impression that they’re taking this claptrap seriously, which may be more of a testament to their acting abilities than any awards they’ve ever received.
Production companies: Tucker Tooley Entertainment, Entertainment One Features
Distributor: RLJE Films
Cast: Gary Oldman, Emily Mortimer, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Stefanie Scott, Chloe Perrin, Douglas Urbanski, Claire Byrne, Jennifer Esposito, Owen Teague
Director-director of photography: Michael Goi
Screenwriter: Anthony Jaswinski
Producers: Tucker Tooley, Scott Lambert, Alexandra Milchan, Scott Lumpkin, Earl Mason McGowin
Executive producers: Greg Renker, Jason Barhydt, Douglas Urbanski, Anthony Jaswinki, Lara Thompson
Production designer: Kara Lindstrom
Editors: Eric L. Beason, Jeff Betancourt
Composers: The Newton Brothers
Costume designer: Sara Hall
Casting: Mary Vernieu, Lindsay Graham
Rated R, 85 minutes