Ghost Ship is both an appropriately brief title and a concise summary of the film’s hackneyed plot; a mysterious ‘Ghost Ship’ is boarded with unforeseen and ultimately deadly consequences (a phrase that could be applied to both the cast and the viewers’ brain). It’s a short, but messy film right from the very start, and the filmmakers make little effort to complicate things…in fact they make little effort overall.
Whilst the film certainly has agreeable elements, it rarely, if ever justifies its existence as a whole (or indeed memorable) feature, the uneven pace, sporadic shocks and weak script all serving to draw attention away from its few strong points. It’s similarity to other films in the genre may at first glance be a positive to genre fans, but it quickly becomes annoying how predictable the characters are, few of the shocks are genuinely shocking (although, admittedly one massive twist comes out of nowhere) whilst the signs of studio interference are all too obvious.
By turns uneven, clichéd and downright boring, Ghost Ship is certainly an uncomfortable experience, but not for the reasons intended, not good enough to love, and not bad enough to hate, it is in all senses of the word ‘mediocre’. It is worth noting it is unrelated to the 1943 (and probably superior) film of the same name.
On a 1962 Cruise Liner the warmth and pomp of an upper class party is shattered in amusingly (perhaps not intentionally so) gory fashion, with a wire cord put to inventive use in the film’s opening sequence (one of the film’s better ones).
Forty Years later said event has ‘surprising’ (i.e. cheesy and predictable) repercussions for an American Salvage Ship and its crew.
Gruff Sean Murphy (Gabriel Byrne-following further the path into mediocrity) a man who’s seen ‘strange things happen in the Straight’ is the proud Captain of The Artic Warrior, a somewhat spartan salvage ship. Celebrating a recent success at a bar with his small (generic stock character) crew he is approached by Jack Ferriman (Desmond Harrington) a weather service Pilot, and signs up for a potentially lucrative contract: Investigating a mysterious ship floating in the Bering Strait.
Reluctantly bringing Ferriman along for the ride, Murphy and his crew set sail, cuing some surprisingly good music, and a predictably bad script. The slow beginning is full of bad, banal and boring dialogue- ‘Do you want me to come down there and kick your ass? Because I’ll do it’ being a typical example, whilst attempts to build atmosphere and characterisation largely fall flat. Whilst this slow start lets us get to know (or, perhaps more accurately get to hate) most of the characters, and admittedly is different to what you’d expect, it only ends up being annoying. It almost feels like the filmmakers are trying too hard to make the viewer care, (though based on the script it’s obvious they weren’t) before the inevitable gore and deaths start coming.
The script reportedly went through several re-writes just prior to the start of shooting, and it shows, besides pacing and dialogue issues (which are recurring in the film), the film bares the hallmarks of two distinctly different spins on things-psychological horror, and slasher film (the latter being far more evident), though such a mix could be potentially interesting, neither element is handled brilliantly in the film-either separately or when shoehorned together, with the surprising result that the film feels convoluted and overstuffed, no mean feet considering its less than 90 minutes long.
Whilst the script ultimately proves fatal to the film, there are certainly things about the film that can be appreciated, more so for genre fans.
The cast all seem suited to the subject matter, though as it’s so dumb that isn’t necessarily a complement. Gabriel Byrne and Julianna Margulies are most effective as the leads, charismatic and convincing, whilst Isaiah Washington, Emily Browning and a pre Lord of The Rings Karl Urban are given juicy supporting roles, and make their presence felt positively.
As mentioned the deaths, and scares soon begin to pile up once the ‘Ghost Ship’ is boarded: mysterious noises are heard, ghostly visitors are encountered, and supporting characters are violently turned into bright red mist, it may take half an hour, but the film does gets going and almost becomes the film you want it to be.
Although none of the deaths or shocks is particularly surprising, it is here the film is at its best. The camerawork is far more effective at creating tension than the dialogue, and the set pieces are uniformly well staged, gory, action packed, and very appropriate, it’s never intelligent, or particularly memorable, but dare I say it…kinda fun, and sure to entertain slasher fans. A long, but interesting flashback sequence reveals the relevance of the opening sequence (and is arguably the film’s highpoint), whilst demonstrating once more the film’s strong soundtrack.
The film packs a surprisingly (and unnecessarily) large amount of plot twists, some of which are very well thought out and executed, though others are as creaky as the floorboards of the title ship, it’s yet another reason why this film is frustrating. Although some credit is due to the writers for successfully hiding the main twist for the bulk of the film (although it’s a horror so you know the ending’s going to be grim), it demonstrates that even at its best, Ghost Ship only partially succeeds.
An action packed (though annoying) final ten minutes gradually pulls the film to a shock ending…which not only ends the film appropriately…it makes the film seem largely pointless.
Ghost Ship is an occasionally enjoyable film, but largely a frustrating mess, what could have been a dumb but fun horror, becomes well…just plain dumb. Treading water in search of a decent narrative, the technical prowess, few good performances, and decent shock twist on display, only intermittently distract from the poor script, ill thought out structure and confused story, and certainly can’t make up for it.
Not exactly terrible, but rarely become interesting it to have impact of any sort, Ghost Ship will probably entertain Serious Slasher fans, though other viewers are likely to come away disappointed.