While it’s possible to set a horror movie in a big, wide open space, the claustrophobic feeling of confinement is an important ingredient of many stories and films in the genre. If you can’t escape, how can you avoid the horrible fate that awaits you? Heck, there are horror films literally set inside a coffin where the protagonist wakes up and realizes they’re buried alive. Doesn’t get more confining than that! That’s also why I think the new horror film Mary works so well; the majority of it takes place on a small sailboat in the middle of the Caribbean where there’s no-one for miles; it’s just the family in peril and the sea.
The film revolves around the troubled family of David (Gary Oldman) and Sarah (Emily Mortimer). David’s a struggling commercial sailor who can’t quite hit the big time as he struggles to succeed at bringing home a meaningful paycheck. The couple are having all sorts of relationship problems too, exacerbated by some of Sarah’s recent indiscretions. Determined to reboot the family and find happiness again, David heads to a boat auction, enthused about purchasing a fixer-upper boat to begin a charter business. When he encounters a beautiful salvage sailboat called, you guessed it, Mary, there’s something about the ship that calls to him. A ship that was found floating at sea without any crew. Now it’s a, um, killer deal.
He buys it and the entire family enthusiastically set about the restoration. Finally, it’s done and the beleaguered family, Mom, Dad, their two daughters teen Lindsey (Stefanie Scott) and little Mary (Chloe Perrin), and handsome young boat hand Tommy (Owen Teague) set off on a shakedown voyage to make sure everything’s in good order. But it’s not smooth sailing and the evil energy of the boat begins to play tricks on the crew. Lydia is sure she saw someone skittering along the deck late at night, David keeps getting furious without knowing why, and little Mary is suddenly drawing some really troubling pictures. Then Tommy goes completely bonkers and things turn violent, but what’s really going on?
Mary is tightly written by Anthony Jaswinski, who scored a hit with The Shallows a few years ago, and is ably directed by American Horror Story alum Michael Goi. It’s not a masterpiece with its reliance on horror tropes and occasional jump scares, and the ending is so unsurprising that they could have skipped it entirely. Still, Mary entertains and as an indie horror film, is enhanced by the solid performances of everyone in the cast, notably both the always enjoyable Gary Oldman and troubled-teen-who-figures-out-what’s-going-on Stefanie Scott. Is it the perfect film to watch while you’re on a sailboat in the middle of nowhere? Maybe. But you’ll want to bring the popcorn!
Dad at the Movies Addendum: While Mary is a pretty benign horror film, there are a number of jump scares and a few moments of pretty intense violence, so this is probably not appropriate for most teens unless they’re already into the genre.