I’ve been pretty honest about how unbiased I can be when reviewing movies–I sing the praises of total shit while I lambast something that fell just short of the mark of greatness (Not GI Joe–that was a mess from the start). I make no apologies, only offer the explanation that if I know what the movie’s going for, I will probably get on board.
HA! I made a pun.
Ghost Ship is a 2002 product of Joel Silver’s ‘Dark Castle’ movie production house, which was formed in order to remake the horror movies of classic schlock horror master William Castle. They started out with 1999’s dumb-but-fun House on Haunted Hill (any movie starring Geoffrey Rush in a role Vincent Price created is an automatic WIN), and then Thirteen Ghosts, starring Tony Shalhoub as a man who inherits a bizarre house which doubles as a machine that can open the gates of hell and is powered by the damned. Or something. Both movies were way more fun than they should have been–watching both were like that first time you step into the Halloween Store in the autumn, and all the rubber masks, feather boas, monster teeth and polyester suits have been taken out of storage for another year’s worth of cheap scares and wacky fun. Dark Castle has since branched out from horror, producing Ninja Assassin and The Losers, but they still put out horror every now and then. Basically it’s the Hollywood equivalent of that one house on the block that goes totally balls-out for Halloween, who is otherwise normal if not downright boring the rest of the year.
Ghost Ship was put out after the production company had been riding high for a little while, and wanted to do something a little different.
As I’ve previously mentioned, I have a completely irrational fear of the sea, yet am also fascinated by it, especially maritime lore. The Mary Celeste, the Flying Dutchman, shipwrecks, ice ships like the Schooner Jenny and the Octavius, it’s ALL good. I might not be able to stand seawater that goes over my knees, but I LOVE the drama of a shipwreck.
Ghost Ship was right up my alley.
The opening segment is one of the more beautiful and interesting in a horror movie in recent memory- a fancy party with a super, super SUPER hot Italian diva performing is taking place on the deck of a luxury ocean liner. We are introduced to a little girl, alone, who dances with the avuncular captain. There’s a freak accident, the girl is horribly alone, (I won’t spoil it) and we get the titles.
The story begins with a salvage crew, a well-oiled machine of a team that includes such heavies as Gabriel Byrne, Julianne Margulies, Isaiah Washington and delicious morsel Karl Urban. For a goofy horror movie, that’s a pretty pedigreed cast, right there. They’re approached by mild-mannered pilot Jack Ferryman, who reports that he’s seen a giant hulk in the Bering Straits from his plane and who needs their help with the operation. It could mean a big payoff for the crew, whose life philosophy is that ‘The only plan is there is no plan.’
But once they actually find the ship, there’s a hitch – it’s the Antonia Graza, an Italian luxury ocean liner that disappeared in 1962, but had been sighted every now and then by captains around the world. Whoever finds it would be rich ever after, and it’s no coincidence that Murphy (played by Byrne) has been fascinated with the ship all his career.
Once on board, the ship is a rusty, sea-soaked ruin. Remnants of her former finery are everywhere, in the carved paneling, the fallen statuary, and peeling gilt flourishes. The whole thing would be familiar to anyone who’s played the Bioshock games, and it wouldn’t surprise me if some of the imagery had inspired that game, if only a little.
But all is not well. The crew find a digital watch, and what appear to be bullet holes in one of the pools. Also evident is the image of a young girl in a blue dress who keeps appearing to Epps (Margulies), the only woman in the group. Nevertheless, they get underway with the salvage operation, planning to patch holes in the hull.
Epps is one of the better-written female characters present in horror movies. She isn’t exactly Ellen Ripley, but she’s more well-rounded and believable as a competent salvage operator–she’s physically strong, wears no makeup (Margulies is one of those women who really doesn’t need much–I covet her glorious eyebrows) and doesn’t take shit from the comedy duo of Dodge and Munder. She’s Murphy’s right hand, almost like his daughter.
Also refreshing was the fact that the team seem like intelligent people–they go about their business with a brusque competence that indicates their experience, and it’s clear they know what they’re doing. People used to say that the sea is a harsh mistress, and that’s goddamn right: all the tech in the world won’t save you if you don’t know what you’re doing, and boats STILL capsize or go missing all the time.
Ghost Ship is a fun time to be had–the scares are a little creaky haunted house, but the effects are good and the story–at least until the gold shows up–is interesting. The way the characters puzzle their way through what they should do is also refreshing, since in most horror movies people just run around screaming and bumping into things. It doesn’t make the movie scary, but it’s fun and at least well-written enough to entertain.
Ghost Ship is available on Instant Watch.