Not So Scary ‘Mary’

by Jonah Desneux on October 12, 2019

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Rock Fist Way Down]

Mary is a film about a cursed boat and its direction sinks pretty quickly. Director Michael Goi’s ambition is visible but there is no life preserver to rescue Mary ( in theaters and on VOD and Digital) from a muddled script overwhelmed with cliche. It is a genre film, but its no-nonsense tone doesn’t match its utter nonsense plot. A film like this normally has a silver-lining when great actors involved, but unfortunately, both Emily Mortimer and Gary Oldman give two of the worst performances of their careers.

Mary plays with metaphor, touches on family dynamics, and desperately tries to be more than a movie about a killer boat and witches curse. However, the level of craftsmanship of the film isn’t quite there to elevate its depth above the messy plot and its far too serious tone. For this reason, Mary drowns. 

The film’s narrative takes place as Mortimer’s character is being interrogated by the police about her family tragedy that took place on a charter-ship off the coast of Florida. Through a series of flashbacks, the mother of the family tells the story of her husband buying an abandoned boat and all the misfortunes that followed at their time at sea. Soon into the aquatic endeavors, an evil emerges, plaguing the family and turning them against each other. Though the narrative is told in flashbacks, it is painfully linear with blatantly guided dialogue setting up the next scene. There is little room for thrills with the film’s narrator essentially sharing everything that’s about to happen before it occurs on screen.

The film is isolation horror at its most unpleasant. Instead of creating the anxiety of feeling trapped like the characters onboard the boat, the cinematography leaves you feeling seasick. The tightness of the framing never properly plays into the emotional effect the film tried to achieve. The harsh low-key lighting may have been in place for the elements of realism, but its combination with framing made for a more difficult viewing experience. 

A major issue with the film is the predictability of its horror. With an hour and twenty-minute runtime, Mary is not a slow burn in any way. There is never time for the viewer to digest and anticipate what is about to happen next in the action. The script instead utilizes an abundance of jump scares to make up for its lack of a build. Since the scenes take place in a very limited setting, the jump scares are incredibly forced and thus predictable. Unlike other more effective horror movies, there is not a sense that a monster could be hiding around any corner, creating the thrills that nowhere is safe. With Mary, the characters would always have to force themselves to go where the terrors would be. Characters stop what they are doing and walk to the exact same spot that something jumped out only five minutes ago. Writer Anthony Jaswinski attempts to make the most out of what action can take place in his secluded setting, but he’s never able to pull off the tall task and the film drastically suffers from it.

Big things were expected out of Gary Oldman after his Oscar-winning performance in The Darkest Hour, but now expectations have been tempered. Mary is certainly a bump in the road of the actor hitting his highest caliber once more. In the film, Oldman plays David, the father of the family. David’s resilience and nativity dooms his family in a similar fashion of a Greek tragedy. Oldman, however, seemingly did not give this performance his all and what he did give was simply awkward. Portraying panic as confusion, Oldman never commits himself to the horror. With the film being way more serious than it needed to be, Oldman’s acting comes off as campy and out of place. In seeing how immersive he can be in other roles it’s baffling to see him give so little here. 

Alongside Oldman, Emily Mortimer is an actress viewed with prestige but gives an abysmal performance in Mary. Many things work against Mortimer, but not even that can justify her imbalanced performance. The film follows Mortimer’s view of the events, putting most of the weight on the actresses back. Similar to Oldman, Mortimer never fully commits to the character and it creates a massive imbalance in tone. Each scene feels like the first take, without any interpretation notes given whatsoever. Mortimer does what each scene calls for, but without a strong script, the character feels completely different every ten or so minutes.

Mary is like The Shining at sea but without all the creativity. Even though the scenes are ludicrous when they’re intended to be serious, I do applaud the film for staying true to its nature. Mary is never convoluted by doing too many things at once. The route that Mary chooses to cruise down though is quite bumpy. The horror genre is in a cinematic Renaissance right now, but it doesn’t look like Mary will be joining the club as one of the modern-day greats.

Jonah Desneux

Jonah Desneux is a recent graduate from the University of Missouri with a BA in Film Studies. It’s baffling that someone who just spent four years writing film paper after film paper would immediately want to write some more, but hey, he must love it! Along with writing about film Jonah enjoys writing and performing sketch comedy in Columbia and Kansas City.

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