I can’t remember when I first caught a glimpse of the trailer for Michael Goi’s (American Horror Story, Scream Queens), Mary, but I assumed it was just another movie about The Queen Mary and its many reported hauntings. When I sat down to watch the film, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that was not the case…
…While Mary is about a haunted boat, it’s an original story written by Anthony Jaswinski (The Shallows, Vanishing on 7th Street), and doesn’t even mention The Queen Mary.
The film opens with a black screen and the fading text of an old sailor’s poem, backdropped against shouts and screams that capture the imagination and set the tone of what’s to come. It was quite effective and made me settle in, in anticipation.
Cut to current day where Sarah (Emily Mortimer, Mary Poppins Returns, Hugo), after a Coast Guard rescue, is being held for questioning by detective, Lydia Clarkson, played by Jennifer Esposito (NCIS, Blindspot). Lydia’s questioning of Sarah serves as a bridge between the present and the events leading to it. Oddly, these scenes didn’t feel as polished as the rest of the film—almost like they had been tacked on as an afterthought.
“God only knows what happened out there,” states captain obvious—I mean, lieutenant Paul. To which Lydia replies, “Let’s find out,” before entering the room with Sarah.
Quick aside: It may come off that I didn’t enjoy this film, but I really did—unintended cheese and all.
David, played by the incredibly diverse, Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Fifth Element), is tired of living other people’s dreams. He wants to create something for himself and repair his damaged family. In a strained effort to do so, he purchases the decrepit boat, Mary (also his youngest daughter’s name), with plans to start a family boat-chartering business. Unfortunately, he doesn’t bother to consult his wife, Sarah, spectacularly played by Mortimer, before said purchase. This is where we start to see the cracks in David’s family, who, as he states, is a “work in progress.”
After Sarah’s obligatory “how are we going to pay for this?” rant, and David’s “I wanted something that could take us to a better place,” reply, she quickly gives in, signaling to the guilt she carries and a dark secret she’s hiding—a prominent theme throughout the film. On a personal note, it was a nice change to have the typical roles reversed and have a guy who hadn’t been the dick this time around.
Argument over, and one cute, musically set montage of boat cleaning later, the family sets sail for Bermuda. Yep, Bermuda. Straight through the Bermuda Triangle in a decrepit boat with a sordid history. I mean, if this isn’t the way to repair a broken family, what is? Right? Literally a million other things come to mind, but then, we wouldn’t have a movie, so…
I want to take a quick second here and say that Chloe Perrin, who plays David and Sarah’s daughter, Mary, is an absolute treat to watch on screen. She’s cute and adorable when needed and downright terrifying when it comes time for her to be so. She stands very capable next to her seasoned actors, something I can only imagine to be intimidating.
Stefanie Scott is magnificent as the angst Lindsey (Insidious Chapter 3, Hell House (2020)), older sister to Mary, pulling off her role with seemingly little effort.
I am in awe of both these young women and their ability to make me believe and I look forward to watching their careers flourish.
Meanwhile, back on the boat…
As expected, things do not go as planned. At first, it’s subtle. Doors closing and locking on their own, an ominous picture of a tall black woman drawn by Mary. Then come the footsteps, children laughing, being locked in a storage cubby, and fast-moving, out of focus apparitions, blurring past the camera.
In fairness, there’s not a lot you can do when your film set is a boat. Like Sarah tells Lydia, “there’s nowhere to run.” Having said that, Goi nails the creep factor and creates a nervous atmosphere that’s relentless. I found myself holding my breath several times, waiting to be let off the hook with a jump scare—anything that would quell the pressure building in my brain. Sometimes he did, and others he refused to let go, forcing me to go look for my bottle of Advil. And such is the thrill of watching a scary movie.
Without jumping into spoiler territory, the boat’s crew begins to succumb to the underlying presence of whatever inhabits the ramshackle Mary in what amounts to some genuine scares, a few eye-rolling moments, and an ending that caught me off guard.
MARY is a fun, true romp of a ghost story with a great cast and fantastic acting. From start to finish I was held captive, piecing together the fragments of truth alongside Lydia as the events unfolded. The ending, while a bit obvious in hindsight, was kept a terrific secret throughout the film—something I appreciate.
Mary haunts VOD Oct 11th from RLJE Films.
By Daniel Boucher