I was truly excited to see Gary Oldman, one of our greatest living actors, star in an old-school horror film. The premise of Michael Goi’s Mary harks back to 1990’s psychological horror-thrillers, the most obvious being Phillip Noyce’s classic Dead Calm, which also takes place on a yacht. Unfortunately, that’s where the similarities end. Mary is an utterly dismal experience from start to finish, lacking any psychology or thrills. Its worst offense may be extracting perhaps the dullest performance from Oldman yet, an actor normally prone to glorious feats of overacting. What a bummer.
The film makes its derivative nature evident from the get-go, as it employs the oldest device in the cinematic book of thrillers: the unreliable survivor of a horrifying tragedy recollects their story to a representative of the law. In this case, the survivor is the traumatized mother of two daughters, Sarah (Emily Mortimer), and the agent interrogating her is Lydia (Jennifer Esposito, the go-to actress for this sort of role). “Evil needs a body to exist,” Sarah tells Lydia solemnly. “That body was that boat.” Shivers and goosebumps, folks.
“…folks start getting possessed, one-by-one, by a witch that allegedly drowned in those waters ages ago.”
The boat in question, called – you guessed it – Mary, was impulse-purchased by Sarah’s husband David (Gary Oldman) after it had been discovered abandoned off the coast of Georgia. We find out about this in flashback; from this point on, the film flips back and forward between the happenings on the boat and the “highly-invigorating” conversation between Sarah and Lydia, ridding the narrative of any semblance of tension.
Understandably upset at her husband spending a fortune on a dilapidated piece of shit, Sarah confronts David about it. “I need to captain my own boat,” he says. “It’s the only way to get ahead.” Later he adds, “I just thought that it would be something we could finally make ours…in this boat, I see our future!” In case you miss the parallels: just like their fledgling relationship, the boat needs work, and David sees redemption in it. Yes, this film isn’t nearly as deep as the ocean waters that the titular yacht navigates.