Ghost Ship (2002)
Cast: Gabiel Byrne, Julianna Margulies, Alex Dimitriades, Isaiah Washington
Director: Steve Beck
Nutshell: Crew discover a ghostly ocean liner with a malevolent life of its own
Another light on plot, heavy on effects horror hocus from the Dark Castle production company helmed by Robert Zemeckis. These chaps hit on the nifty idea of recycling some of William Castle’s legendary horror hoots by dressing them up in state of the art CGI effects and giving them a hip backdrop of MTV style set design including much flash and dash if little substance.
William Castle’s cheesy-hammy-horror melodrama House on Haunted Hill was given some very unwelcome CGI treatment a couple of years ago as well as an overdose of overly stylish set design but it didn’t help any as compared to the rather charming original, the newer version came off as a loud and flashy and awfully dull and uninspired. The film managed to do reasonable business and a follow up of sorts arrived in the infantile 13 Ghosts, another remake of a slice of vintage William Castle cheese. Ghost Ship is the latest effort from Dark Castle productions but this time rather than mutilate the magnificent Tingler they have gone for an original idea (even if their “original idea” is in itself highly derivative of some well known genre films).
The Shining is a film that springs immediately to mind upon watching a few minutes of Ghost Ship. Other titles that clearly “influenced” this film are Dead Calm and the film has very clearly been touched by the ghostly presence that has emerged to haunt Hollywood films in the post Sixth Sense era. The film starts with a gruesome prelude from 1962 and then we drift forward in time to the present day following the exploits of a crew of ocean bound hustlers headed by Gabriel Byrne and his rather Ripley like sidekick Julianna Margulies. The crew are fatigued and happy to be returning to shore for a stint on land after six long months at sea. However just when group are visualizing their break from work they are made an offer to investigate a massive ocean liner which seems to have appeared from nowhere and is rumoured to be loaded with riches. They agree to take on the man who makes them the offer and set off in search of this humungous ship which most of them don’t actually believe even exists.
Its not long before they discover what they were looking for but when they climb aboard the crew finds nothing but chilling evidence that all was not quite right on the ship when it mysteriously went missing for all these years. The crew start to suffer hallucinations and are paid regular visits by several ghostly entities very similar to the way in which Jack Nicholson began to interact with the world of the dead in Kubrik’s Shining. Slowly the ship appears to take on a life of its own – a malevolent unseen force luring its prey into a deathly quagmire.
The idea of a deathly, ghost ship mysteriously emerging from the murky waters to strike terror is a fascinating one but alas in this case the further the film develops and the more the plot unwinds the more ludicrous it becomes.
Though there are one or two creepy scenes along the way, there is little atmosphere of dread infused into proceedings and the film appears to deteriorate rather rapidly into a bunch of flimsy set pieces designed to lull the viewer a little before shocking them with Jack-in-the-Box style scare tactics, none of which work.
There is the obligatory pallid, ghostly child who provides a link to the past for Margulies who becomes an unlikely friend. Then one day just when the plot looks like it is heading nowhere, the little ghostly girl shows up and telepathically shows Margulies an MTV-style video (set to a techno beat) which explains exactly what went wrong on the ship all those years ago! This film may have seemed like a good idea on paper but that has certainly failed to translate to the screen. Ghost Ship’s script and plot are threadbare at best and the acting is uniformly dreadful, no doubt thanks to the embarrassing script.
Gabriel Byrne’s career has degenerated to the extent that he has to appear in ludicrous films like End of Days, Stigmata and now this. The question beckons, what next for poor Byrne. Julianna Margulies deserves praise for keeping a straight face delivering her pathetically written lines but perhaps the biggest embarrassment is Alex Dimitriades who was sensational in Head On and an actor one had predicted a bright future for. Alas he is simply indescribably awful as Santos, the navigator with a diseased accent who is there to provide some comic relief. How disappointing it was to watch Dimitriades being wasted so criminally in a role that should have been left to some struggling Ice Cube wannabe.
The director Steve Beck (13 Ghosts) displays an ability to light up the screen with flashy visuals and is clearly one of the Michael Bay School of modern filmmakers who believe that no single shot should last more than ten seconds. Therefore the film has the look and feel of an extended feature length trailer or Music Video at times, which is basically pretty much what it is. A good basic idea hopelessly stretched out runs out of steam about ten minutes into the film! Steve Beck tries hard to maintain viewer interest but once the plot dives into high farce; it’s an almost impossible task.