When was the last time you were on a boat? Was it a ferry or a cruise ship or a sail boat or a yacht? Most important of all were you scared?
I would bet money that most people’s answers to the above questions would run as follows; ages ago, can’t remember and no not in the slightest. Let’s be honest boats just aren’t as popular as they used to be.
As a form of travel ships have long been surpassed by planes and most rivers previously the life lines to larger cities now see only tourist crafts floating on them for fun. As a pastime sailing is not something the majority of people do especially the land locked ones and the idea of owning a yacht is seen as something exclusively for the elite or anyone making a rap video.
Tales of ghost ships like the Marie Celeste used to dominate our culture but these have almost disappeared in the modern age as the boat has moved from being an everyday essential to a rich persons play thing. All of this leads me to question why in this day and age horror films are still being made set on board boats such as 2019’s Mary which received its world premiere at this year’s FrightFest.
Firstly let’s look at some of the most famous boat based horrors and categorise them just for kicks. Instantly I would discount movies such as Adrift, Open Water and their liquid ilk which are more sea survival flicks torturing the audience with a what if scenario usually involving sharks. In these films the boat is merely an aside to fall from rather than an important feature.
I would also take away any horror’s set aboard huge cruise ships like Triangle, Deep Rising and Ghost Ship. In these the vessel are a stand in for the haunted house or more appropriately the haunted hotel and once aboard their epic size and structure mean it would be easy to forget the characters are even afloat. That is until the obligatory final act sinking scene.
Lastly what that leaves us with is a stack of sail boat horrors such as Dead Calm, Knife in the Water, Plein Soleil, its remake The Talented Mr Ripley and Harpoon (another 2019 FrightFest film) all of which involve unhinged individuals forced together in a very small isolated area. The boat is actually a pressure cooker designed to up the stress and tension until it explodes all over the audience. Could you swap the ship in these films for a prison cell, waiting room, car or cabin? Yes you totally could although then you wouldn’t get to see the cast in bikini’s and swimming trunks.
And then there is Mary. Mary is about a family trapped on a haunted sail boat in the middle of the Bermuda triangle. The ghost if you haven’t already guessed is the same as the one on the Marie Celeste which has transferred to the far smaller ship via a freaky figurehead. The ship is essential to the story or else there would be no ghost and here we hit why horror films on boats like this one just do not work.
Firstly the whole concept of sailing, its terminology, its practice and its appeal is something I for one have no concept of or care for. Why would anyone want to spend hours in a tiny space rocking back and forth working there ass off in the middle of vast endless blue nothingness for days on end to get to a place they could have arrived comfortably and happily at 7 days before hand if they just flew?
Also the geography of a boat is also completely alien to most of the audience who don’t know there Misen-Sail from their Poop deck. Is the ghost near or far? Are they up or down? Working out where anyone is in relation to anyone else is impossible and as the characters yell and run through one bland wooden door or throw open another unrecognisable hatch you can’t help wondering if it’s even the same boat they left port on.
The majority of the time the setting in Mary feels like a forced measure to ensure not only that the characters can’t just walk away from the stupid situation but also to create some form of histrionic hype around the legend of the evil spirit. This totally falls apart once you realise that the tiniest bit of research would have put any sane minded individual off going anywhere near this vessel let alone buying it.
In fact take the sailboat away and Mary is just a bunch of trite horror clichés barely held together with a pitiful plotline. The effects and design are hugely unoriginal, the set-up has been done to death and the scares are just loud noises desperate to instil some form of reaction in you other than boredom.
So who are these idiotic characters on board the doom ridden boat? Unbelievably it’s Oscar-winner Gary Oldman and the immensely talented Emily Mortimer. These acting titans actually save Mary from being possibly one of the worst horror films I have seen in recent years purely by the force of their talent. I have often said the mark of a truly great actor is their ability to make a crap film watchable and never was it more true than in Mary. In fact the 1 star rating is basically half a star for each of them and 0 for the film.
I like to think Oldman and Mortimer used whatever money they got from the movie to buy a boat themselves hopefully a haunted one because they both seem like the kind of people who might enjoy sailing and therefore would get something… no anything from this terrible film.
Maybe it’s time boat based horror’s sank out of view because if there future course is set to be as bad as Mary I might have to jump ship to another genre. Okay that’s the end of the sail puns.