We open with a title card about a witch coming to steal kids at sea, and move on to Sarah (Emily Mortimer) being held by the police, who speculate “God only knows what happened out there.” Sarah is dehydrated and bruised, and her husband David (Gary Oldman) is conspicuously absent, though their daughters Lindsey (Stefanie Scott) and Mary (Chloe Perrin) are safe. She tells Detective Clarkson (Jennifer Esposito) her story: David, tired of giving fishing tours, wanted his own boat and his own business, so he bought a vessel with a history of not one, not two, but three unexplained cases of entire crews going completely missing. Once at sea, everyone on board: Sarah, David, Lindsey, Mary, Lindsey’s boyfriend Tommy (Owen Teague), and first mate Mike (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) are all under the evil influence…of the cheap murder boat.
I was loath to see Mary, and kept putting it off. I’m not the biggest fan of Gary Oldman, and I have an irrational aversion to movies taking place outside. Plus I had difficulty taking it seriously, because the idea of an evil boat invariably brings to my mind the movie Cooties, in which Elijah Wood plays a hack writer transcribing his newest book: “Chapter one: The boat was evil. But he loved the boat…Chapter one: The boat was evil, but he didn’t know just how evil…The boat was evil, but it was an acceptable level of evil…Chapter one: The seafaring vessel–the schooner–was evil. [Sighs] It’s getting there.” When Sarah states, in all seriousness, “Evil needs a body to exist. The body was that boat,” all I hear is Elijah Wood. Sidebar: if you haven’t seen Cooties, get on that now. I’ll wait.
I found it frequently boring and insufferably paint-by-the-numbers, particularly the characterization. David is the unstable patriarch who insists that “We’ve just had a run of bad luck”; Sarah is the shrill family bookkeeper screaming about the bills/worried mother (you could play a drinking game in which you imbibe every time she runs around the boat calling Mary for no particular reason); Lindsey is the teenage girl cliche, obsessed with wi-fi, her boyfriend, and making decisions that horrify her mother; Mary is the typical female-under-ten character–she’s supposed to be cute, and that’s the extent of her personality. Her job is to draw pictures explaining what’s happening with the ghost, and when it possesses her it’s supposed to be shocking because she’s supposed to be so damn cute.
There are multiple references to The Shining, because why not freely copy from something more famous while you’re at it: an impassioned speech about how they need to stay on course to keep the family going financially regardless of the insane shit that’s happening; a possessed character insisting the male lead kill his family, being locked up, a low-angle shot of him pounding on the door, and a ghost letting him out.
I fought the urge to just turn it off–which I have a strict policy of never doing, because with few exceptions (Seed II, Razor, and The Creeps come to mind) even the most unpalatable film has a hidden gem or two (or is at least so bad it’s funny). Making movies is hard, you lot. I know this in my heart, even if I enjoy being snarky. The action does pick up after a while, once there’s more haunting and less whining, and a movie that I thought held no surprises showed me a thing or two. Owen Teague puts in a great performance for a brief but memorable role.
The ending is neat. I was glad that not all of the characters of color die, and it’s just so refreshing that the first death is of a white person–that’s one cliche they do manage to avoid. But overall, you can take it or leave it.