Ghost Ship is a 2002 horror film that stars Gabriel Byrne, Julianna Margulies, Ron Eldard, Desmond Harrington, Isaiah Washington and Karl Urban as a salvage crew who attempt to recover an old cruise liner in the Bearing Sea. They set about trying to tow the vessel but as they explore they stumble across the ship’s sinister secret and a monster that is hiding in plain sight.
Haunted houses, monsters in space, and spirits on ships. All of these concepts have been done again and again. In 2002 an all star cast appeared in Ghost Ship, a film that was not surprisingly set onboard a deserted ship. By the way the term ghost ship refers to a vessel that is found abandoned or adrift with no trace of the passengers or crew...so the title is quite clever because it is an adrift ship that also has ghosts on it...clever film makers, very clever.
Is the film one that adds something new to the genre or a tired procession of clichés that fall to do anything other than bore??
Let’s set sail together and find out…
The film opens up in May 1962 with a cruise liner named the Antonia Graza, the passengers are enjoying the journey and a little girl named Katie, travelling alone, is bored until the captain offers to dance with her. A hand belonging to an unseen individual activates a spool which has a thin wire attached to it, the wire slices across the deck and kills passengers and crew alike leaving Katie to scream in terror.
Forty years later the crew of a salvage vessel the Arctic Warrior are approached by a man named Jack (Harrington) claiming to be a pilot who spotted a vessel adrift in the Bearing Sea. He offers the crew the chance to salvage the unknown ship providing he comes along with them.
The crew of the Warrior comprising of Murphy (Byrnes), Epps (Margulies), Dodge (Eldard), Greer (Washington) with Munder (Urban) and Alex Dimitriades as Santos head out into the Bearing Sea and come across the rusting remains of the Graza. There are no passengers, no crew, and no trace of what happened to any of them. Whilst exploring the vessel Epps spots the little girl seen in the opening sequence which she knows is impossible. The crew also find evidence that they are not the first ones to board the Graza and yet no one else reported finding the vessel.
The crew of the Arctic Warrior realise that saving the Graza is going to be difficult because the current it is caught in will ultimately lead it to collide with a small group of islands which will sink it.
Later they discover bodies that have not been onboard for forty years and find several crates of gold in the cargo bay. They decide to abandon the Graza to her fate and escape onboard the Warrior with the gold they found. Unfortunately as they prepare to leave, propane tanks open themselves and leak into the Warrior’s engine room resulting in the destruction of the Warrior and the death of Santos. The remaining crew are forced to remain onboard the Graza with no choice but to repair her and await rescue.
The abandoned Graza quickly turns into a nightmare for the survivors of the Warrior as they learn the truth about what happened to the ship’s passengers and crew.
A haunted house on the ocean is basically what you are expecting when you sit down to watch this film, only things turn out to be not quite that simple, yes there are ghosts but this is not about haunting and creepy imagery it is more about the blood splattering violence.
There is a lot of gore and basically the opening sequence lets you know exactly what kind of blood soaked cruise you are in for. You are in for blood, and lots and lots of it. I don’t think I can talk about the film without talking about the story and the themes that it chooses to run with which means potential spoilers. As the film progresses the crew have contact with a number of ghosts, including Murphy having a chat with the Graza’s Captain and Epps seeing the orgy of violence that happened after the gold came to be onboard because Katie shows it to her
Jack’s character has his moments as the seemingly naive pilot who is giving the crew of the Warrior a great opportunity and yet his motives for bringing the crew to the Graza are far more sinister than they appear.
Ghost Ship is one of those films that has ideas that are either very interesting or completely and utterly retarded.
There are things that the film asks us, the audience, to run with:
There is an abandoned and haunted ship - okay considering the film is called Ghost Ship that is fair enough. Onboard, not surprisingly, there are ghosts, one of which being a little girl, and for a change the little girl is not the embodiment of all evil in a horror film…fine, I can live with that too.
Three of the ghosts interact directly with the crew of the Warrior but only two in a non-hostile way, specifically the Captain of the Graza with Murphy and Katie (the little girl) with Epps. Now through the captain and his conversation with Murphy we learn that the Graza went to the aid of another vessel named the Lorelei that was sinking and not only recovered the creates of gold from that ship but they also rescued a single survivor from the sea. Through Katie we then see that the crew of the Graza went insane in their desire to have the gold, they killed the passengers and other members of the crew, all of them ending up dead as the identity of the survivor of the Lorelei is revealed…this is when you’ll be asking yourself if the film has ventured into the uncharted waters of daring new territory or we're now sailing in the HMS Piece O’Crap.
From this moment on, the film will either lose you completely or you’ll actually like the reveal despite the amount of questions you’ll be asking yourself. Pushing the boat out and exploring different horror ideas can be really interesting or take you so far out of the moment that you cannot become re-immersed in the film. Personally the first time I saw it I thought it was pants on head retarded but in subsequent viewings I have to admit that it is kind-of interesting. The problem is that Ghost Ship has ideas above its station, ghosts, fine, but soul collectors?? Management?? A quota of souls?? All of these are concepts that are brought up but in no way expanded upon because there simply isn’t the time. There is a lot of build up for a relatively weak payoff with the crew of the Warrior suddenly dropping like flies and the film leaves the audience with more questions than anything else.
There is a surprisingly talented cast here, the story is either weak-ass or quite interesting depending on your perspective. Still it can't be that bad because the likes of Gabriel Byrne, Karl Urban and Julianna Margulies all signed on to be part of it and if they thought it was going to be decent then who are you to argue?? All of them do well in their respective roles as their characters struggle to understand what is happening and how they are going to get off the ship alive.
Ultimately though the film is a relatively average horror, it is entertaining enough but it is not the creepy, tense, atmospheric and sinister film promised in the trailer that will leave you tensely biting your fingernails in fear…it is at heart a splatter film with enough gore to satisfy bloodthirsty horror fans. However, its ideas are far beyond it, and in no way anchored into the story as much as they needed to be to work. They are not as developed as they are revealed in the last few minutes before the credits role, if they’d have been the focus rather than a subplot then it could have been so much more. Sadly the more interesting ideas are lazily thrown in at the end resulting in a film that realistically is not as good as it easily could have been.
Shall I give Ghost Ship a Thumbs Up for what it tries to do and the strong cast? Or shall I give it a Thumbs Down because it should have stuck with being a haunted house on the ocean which wouldn’t have been exactly original but it probably would have been better than a boat load of half baked and poorly executed ideas??
Fuck it, despite all its issues I enjoyed Ghost Ship, yes it is not the best film in the world but the cast are good, the gore is suitably stomach churning, plus it is still worth a watch so I am going to give it a Thumbs Up.
6/10 – Slightly above average horror film, there is nothing that you won’t have seen before if you’ve watched Event Horizon or well, pretty much any gore focussed horror film from…you know…ever. Still if you fancy a change from haunted houses or monsters in space then check it out and see if you think it is sailing through a sea of new ideas or should be allowed to sink without a trace…