The question that Mary, a low-budget horror entry about a haunted sailboat, is most likely to inspire in viewers is not, “Who will survive?” or “What happened to them?” but, “How did Gary Oldman and Emily Mortimer get snookered into boarding this sinking ship?”
Oscar winner Oldman plays David Greer, a fishing charter captain with dreams of starting his own business. When David's wife Sarah (Mortimer) comes across a promising vessel online and sends him to the auction, he finds himself instead mysteriously drawn to a decrepit derelict, seemingly in thrall to the siren song of the weatherworn female figurehead at its bow. David calls it fate; after all, the rusty tub shares the name of their youngest daughter, Mary. Sarah calls it a money pit, but after a cheerful renovation montage, the couple set sail with their two daughters, a boyfriend, and a burly mate to—where else?—the Bermuda Triangle. What could go wrong?
Unfortunately, any tension about how this shakedown cruise will turn out is undermined in the film's opening minutes by the introduction of an unnecessary narrative frame in which the frightened and waterlogged Sarah, having been rescued amid the vessel's remains, is interrogated by the feds. In the extended flashback, director Michael Goi and screenwriter Anthony Jaswinsky spin a tale composed largely of horror movie tropes: daughter Mary's crayon drawings turn violent and bloody and she's soon talking to an imaginary lady; doors slam shut; creepy dreams ensue; and someone or something pops into frame with a wearying regularity.
Despite the time spent renovating every inch of the ship, it's only halfway into the trip that Sarah discovers records of its previous owners and their disastrous voyages. These records also include a poem about a sea witch looking to steal children, which should be familiar to viewers since it appeared 40 minutes earlier as the film began. Beyond those four lines of verse, the script offers little to explain the supernatural presence, though Goi, who also serves as a relatively competent cinematographer, turns the camera on the ship's figurehead at moments of crisis. Since the threat is unclear and the rules of engagement undefined, there's little for the audience to do except listlessly wait for the nest jump or bump in the night.
Perhaps most disappointing is the filmmakers' failure to exploit the setting. A ship of this size, alone at sea, should offer plenty of opportunities to exploit feelings of claustrophobia and isolation. In Goi's hands, it might as well be a haunted house.
For their parts, the stars give it a game try—Oldman underplaying, Mortimer going over the top. But without real characters to inhabit, both are left adrift in clichés.