Mary (2019)

NOVEMBER 26, 2019


I planned to see Mary at Beyond Fest last month, but my ulcer issues had me being a bit choosier with my outings, as I was still unsure if I was completely back to normal (every minor gas pain *still* causes me to briefly panic). But now that I've seen it, I'm glad I waited to watch at home; it's a smaller film that wouldn't benefit all that much from a big-screen viewing, and as it gets a bit repetitive in the middle I probably would have nodded off anyway and missed some stuff. Plus, I would be denied the making of featurette on the blu-ray, where the little girl playing Gary Oldman's daughter gushes about how excited she was to meet someone from the Harry Potter movies - I love when kid actors are actually, you know, kids, and not precocious (read: annoying).

Oldman plays David, a family man who captains a charter boat some other guy owns, taking tourists out for fishing and whale spotting or whatever - but he longs to own his own ship so he can get a bigger piece of that tourism pie. When a salvaged sailboat turns up for auction at a price that's too good to be true (uh oh) he jumps on the opportunity, which pisses off his wife (Emily Mortimer) because it's a lot of money and he didn't consult her first. But he has a pretty good trump card to win the argument - he forgave her for an affair she had a few months earlier, so she's like "Ah ok, touche" and drops it. But that's enough strife to inform us studied horror movie fans that their personal demons are going to manifest once they're out at sea with nowhere to hide/run.

So yeah, it's basically Shining or Amityville but on a relatively small boat, which is an intriguing concept for a film. Sure, we've had the likes of Death Ship and Ghost Ship, but the keyword there is "ship" - this is a sailboat, not much bigger than the Orca in Jaws. That limits the kinds of scares that director Michael Goi and writer Anthony Jaswinski (who wrote The Shallows, so he knows from minimized settings) can execute - there's no "sneaking off to explore the ship" kind of stuff, nor is anyone able to "split up" in any reasonable manner - the furthest they can get from each other is about forty feet. I assume this is the reason for the framing device, in which Mortimer's character is telling the story of what happened to her now sunken ship and seemingly dead husband - it botches a hefty chunk of the suspense, but it also allows them to break up the action every now and then by cutting back to the police station for a couple minutes.

But even with that helping, it doesn't change the fact that the characters keep putting up with a lot of unexplained events without ever considering returning home. Perhaps in real time it would have worked, as they COULD make that call and then keep running into ghostly occurrences anyway as they tried to make their way back to the mainland, but it takes place over a few weeks, making Oldman seem kind of idiotic. The "we can't afford to go back" excuse never quite lands, because all they're doing is basically testing the boat out before they start putting it up for hire - there's no ticking clock, just misplaced pride. I remember hearing that the family of Billy Tyne sued the makers of Perfect Storm because George Clooney's version of the man was presented as reckless and foolhardy (since they were all lost at sea, the events that led to his and his crew's death are of course, made up), but I think the movie did a great job of making his decision to try to get through the storm (their ice machine broke and they'd lose all of the valuable fish they caught), so I never thought he was a moron. Oldman's character in this movie though? Come on man, go home.

That said, the scary stuff offers a few good chills, in particular a moment where the youngest daughter smashes a glass on her sister's face out of nowhere - it has no real buildup, so it works as a shock just as well to us as it does to her family. And if you, like me, consider drowning and choking among the worst possible ways to die, "enjoy" the scene where one of the influenced characters ties a rope around someone's neck and tosses them overboard, because that's just doubling up. Also, even if the backstory is rather muddled, I kind of like the idea that the thing that haunts the ship and starts turning them crazy is the siren figurehead, because that means Goi can cut to it every now and then all ominously and I can just hum a few bars of Meat Loaf's "Sailor to a Siren" to amuse myself. But also it helped me think of the movie as another one of those '90s Amityville movies where haunted objects from the house went elsewhere and did its thing - maybe the Lutzes had a figurehead for their little getaway boat and it ended up here!

Back to Oldman though - what's with these newer films where the male lead is clearly much older than the role was written for? We see it with Nic Cage a lot (rumored to be originally cast in this, in fact) too; it's not just "he married a younger woman", it's that they have kids and never once does anyone say anything about it. I mean, the guy is in his 60s, but he's talking about how he still wants to run his own business as if he was hitting forty or so - shouldn't he be about to retire? I know having him in the movie makes people more excited to see it than they might be for, I dunno, Michael Sheen or someone that would be more appropriately aged (I am assuming that for whatever reason the filmmakers wanted two UK actors to play the American parents), but can they at least do a quick rewrite to acknowledge his age? It's not so much "he can pass for 45" or whatever - it's that they're banking on our affinity for an actor who has been around for decades. He wasn't 18 when he played Lee Harvey Oswald, you know?

As mentioned, the disc has a making of featurette, where Oldman notes that it's his first water movie (Hunter Killer wouldn't count since his character wasn't on the sub), though at first I thought he said "horror movie" so I was momentarily insulted on behalf of the respective cast and crews of Dracula and Hannibal (if he wants to forget The Unborn, that's perfectly fine). It only runs about six minutes, so there's not much of substance (ditto for the other, even shorter featurette that focuses on the family cast members) but I appreciate them putting SOMETHING on there in this era of "screw it people are streaming anyway". Ironically, that's probably the ideal option for this movie; it's watchable but not particularly great, with a backstory that's too underdeveloped to require your full attention, so I suspect some "let me check my phone while this umpteenth "something is WRONG here" conversation plays out" will be happening.

What say you?


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