Ghost Ship (2002)
(18) Running time: 91 minutes
Director: Steve Beck
Writer: Mark Hanlon
Cast: Gabriel Byrne, Julianna Margulies, Ron Eldard, Desmond Harrington, Karl Urban, Emily Browning
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish
Ghost Ship was Dark Castle’s third film in a run of average, but strangely very fun horror remakes. Starting with the excellent The House of Haunted Hill (1999), we then had the disappointing Thirteen Ghosts (2001 another Guilty Pleasure!) and then came Ghost Ship. Promising much of the same as the previous remakes, the film relied more on style and effects over substance and acting abilities, and love it or hate it, Ghost Ship is an easy, reliable watch. The film was directed by Steve Beck (who also directed Thirteen Ghosts) and Ghost Ship marked his second, and final film. Ghost Ship was all about atmosphere, and moving the usual haunted house scenario to a lost ship found at sea, the setting was cool, the cast were terrible.
The story see’s Gabriel Byrne playing Murphy, the captain of a search and salvage ship, and a stranger (Desmond Harrington) has told them of a mysterious ship thought lost since 1962. Apparently the ship contains a cargo of gold, and if Murphy and his team help the stranger locate and save the ship, they can all share in the profits. It doesn’t take much to persuade Murphy and his team, and they set off in their little tug boat to find the massive ship and enjoy its loot. The film then jumps almost instantly from bar to the mysterious ship called the Antonia Graza, and things begin to get a little weird from the moment the crew arrive. A little girl is haunting some of the crew, blood begins filling an empty swimming pool and a mysterious singer keeps appearing and tries to seduce one of the crew. Strange noises are heard, and poor old Captain Murphy breaks his clean streak and starts drinking again while a dead captain helps him do it. Creepy visuals and haunting sounds conjure up a feeling of despair and dread, and the menace contained in this ghost ship is brilliantly delivered on screen. Shame then that the cast do not have the abilities to actually look scared!
Ghost Ship plods along at a fairly frantic pace and, thankfully, there is not too much room for character build up or lengthy filler. Instead the film drips in glorious and rather sinister atmosphere while not trying to be too big or clever, and while it does deliver a final twist, if you haven’t spotted it a mile off then maybe you fell asleep during the film. I wouldn’t say Ghost Ship is exactly scary (although in places it REALLY tries to be), but the film delivers plenty of menace and claustrophobic tension that builds around a neat, if predictable story. There is not a lot of bloodshed, and as I said before the film largely relies on its design, and the ship itself is a wonderful and quite creepy creation. Dark corridors, eerie rooms, barely lit passageways and an ever increasing sense of doom make the film at least look the part.
The cast fail miserably, and deliver clichéd lines and ham up their performances where it really wasn’t necessary. This is not an all out balls to the wall horror, it is a steady build up that moves quickly but doesn’t need all the arguments and shouty moments to produce the tension and fear. Gabriel Byrne is the only saving grace, bar maybe one or possibly two other actors, and had the cast actually provided a good enough performance, matched with a little more effort in the script, Ghost Ship would not have felt like the almost empty shell it does. Some scenes, one involving eating maggots, hint at horrors which await, but never fully materialize, and in the end the film feels like a great big letdown. A rushed end spoils the magnificent build up, which all spurs from a terrific opening scene involving a room full of dancers and a long, sharp piece of wire.
Ghost Ship is rubbish, but there is just something about its badness that has me coming back to it time and time again. For whatever reason, I often think about this awful film, and something niggles in the back of my head and I just have to see it again. I know I won’t enjoy it, I know I’ll complain after seeing it, but every now and then I simply have to see it. The cool setting and few nice ideas it does grant the viewer do make the experience one which stays in the mind long after, and like it or not, I get the feeling that something really special was brewing under the surface. Shame it never quite got there and we end up left with a film that is easy to ignore, hard to forget, and one of the ultimate guilty pleasures!