Sunday 30 October 2011

Movie Review: Ghost Ship (2002)

A horror movie that mixes gore with suspense, Ghost Ship cannot fully overcome an identity crisis. There is reasonable talent in the cast and kernels of intriguing ideas in the script, but too much time is wasted decapitating bodies and skulking around dark corners rather than exploring the ghost themes and developing the creepy psychological elements.

In 1962, passengers enjoying lavish entertainment on board the Italian luxury liner Antonia Graza suffer a horrible fate: a taut thin wire chord is unleashed like a blade, slicing through bodies and heads, causing mass death by dismemberment. Katie (Emily Browning), a young girl travelling alone, survives the carnage.

Forty years pass. Murphy (Gabriel Byrne) is the captain of the Anchorage-based salvage tugboat Arctic Warrior and her scrappy crew, including Epps (Julianna Margulies) and Greer (Isaiah Washington). They are approached by Jack (Desmond Harrington), a small plane pilot who has spotted a large vessel floating aimlessly in the Bering Sea. Jack joins the Arctic Warrior crew and they soon intercept the mystery ship, which turns out to be the Antonia Graza. When the salvagers board the abandoned ship, it does not take long for eerie things to start happening. 

With Robert Zemeckis and Joel Silver among the co-producers, Ghost Ship had some Hollywood heavyweights behind it. But the push towards greater commercial potential appears to have also resulted in a significant shift away from the more subtle psychological suspense journey initially planned and towards a more shocks-and-blood narrative, with the final product falling into the cracks between two sub-genres.

The better moments are undoubtedly the calm but chilling encounters between the salvage team members and the on-board ghosts. The scenes between Epps and Katie; Murphy and the Italian captain; and Greer and the sultry lounge singer are gratifying ghost encounters tapping into fragile human psychology. Epps has no family of her own and Katie is a metaphorical daughter. Murphy's career is stalled at the tugboat level, with alcohol issues a likely cause; he gets to share a drink with the captain of a bygone era's grand luxury liner. And Greer is about to get married: the passion he feels for the seductive singer is the farewell to his old life.

Despite some good visual moments delivered by director Steve Beck and the best effort of Margulies and Byrne, Ghost Ship is hampered by significant levels of triteness. There are gruesome deaths aplenty, grotesquely deformed bodies hidden behind closed doors, and endless stock scenes of search lights peering into dark shadows within the bowels of the massive ship.

Ghost Ship eventually sails away quietly, leaving faint memories of what could have been a good movie.

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