Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 21, 2019)
If Jeopardy offered “Vague Movie Titles” as a category, 2019’s Mary would become one of the $1000 answers. With that title, the film could follow virtually any path, but in this case, we get a horror tale.
After a disaster at sea, authorities led by Detective Lydia Clarkson (Jennifer Esposito) attempt to find out what happened. Detective Clarkson interrogates Sarah Greer (Emily Mortimer), a survivor of the calamity.
From there we learn that her seaman husband David (Gary Oldman) found himself oddly drawn to the Mary, an abandoned ship he sees at an auction. Struggling financially, David believes that he can use the vessel to run his own charters and bring prosperity to his family.
This doesn’t go well. As David, Sarah and kids Mary (Chloe Perrin) and Lindsey (Stefanie Scott) take the Mary for a spin, they find themselves mired on a dark psychological journey that creates terror among those involved.
If nothing else, no one can complain too much about the talent involved here, as Mary boasts over-qualified leads. Both Oldman and Mortimer enjoy well-deserved reputations as top-notch actors.
So how’d they end up in a low-budget thriller like this? Maybe they liked the script, though I suspect they joined the cast just for a paycheck, even if that salary didn’t amount to a whole lot.
At least Mortimer and Oldman add some class to an otherwise pretty forgettable horror tale, though I wish Oldman would find a new American accent to use. He settled on a generic sound at least as far back as Batman Begins and his choice for Mary doesn’t veer much from that template.
I suppose the decision to open the film with indications of the impending disaster exists to give the movie some energy at the start. I don’t much care for this, though, as I think the story would unfold better without such obvious foreshadowing, especially because this means we know who’ll survive the journey.
Granted, some movies do just fine when we know the ending, but Mary lacks the skill involved to overcome this handicap. With so much potential tension removed from the equation, Mary needs to rely more strongly on its character/story development, and its faults there ensure it won’t succeed.
Even without the inevitable ending, Mary telegraphs every twist and turn. Little occurs that the viewer can’t anticipate in advance, and none of these moments produce the expected tension or terror.
This means “horror” that stems almost exclusively from cheap jump scares. A better movie would thrust the viewer into a slow downward spiral, but Mary lacks any form of real progression or narrative momentum. Stuff happens and none of its really matters.
It doesn’t help that Mary feels the need to burden the tale with tacky soap opera elements. Couldn’t the story simply deliver a dark psychological thriller without pointless character embellishments?
Those choices feel like they come from a place of cinematic insecurity. I get the impression those involved don’t trust the material to stand on its own, so they toss in lazy tropes to do the work for them.
To be sure, I’ve seen worse movies than Mary in recent months, but that seems like a pretty tepid “endorsement”. Slow, cliché and trite, the film lacks much to make it compelling.