Mark Reviews Movies

GHOST SHIP

2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Steve Beck

Cast: Gabriel Byrne, Julianna Margulies, Ron Eldard, Isaiah Washington, Desmond Harrington, Alex Dimitriades, Karl Urban, Emily Browning

MPAA Rating: R (for strong violence/gore, language and sexuality)

Running Time: 1:31

Release Date: 10/25/02


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Review by Mark Dujsik

Considering the absolute dreck the horror genre has given us in just the past few months (let alone the decades since it became popular), Ghost Ship is all the more, well, not pleasant or surprising, but tolerable. Needless to say, I’m not all that enthusiastic about the movie, but I won’t deny that it shows more skill, craft, and intelligence than the majority of B-level horror movies to come out in past few years. By intelligence, I don’t mean to say the movie is smart; it’s really quite silly. But the story actually has a bit of depth to it, and the body count doesn’t start to rise for a relatively long time, allowing us to begin to care about the mystery behind all the strange goings-on. On the suspense level, the movie doesn’t cut it, but surprisingly, it doesn’t matter. It’s moderately entertaining nonetheless.

The movie starts in 1962 aboard the Antonia Graza, an Italian ocean liner full of very rich people. One night of exorbitant partying, the passengers and crew meet a gruesome fate, as a taut wire slices through a group of slow-dancers (just try not to wince during this sequence, easily the movie’s best). Of course, there’s more that happened, but it’d be giving too much away. Fast forward to the present day and a salvage crew led by Captain Sean Murphy (Gabriel Byrne, fulfilling the legitimate actor requirement of the movie) and run by a crew with names taken straight out of a cheap Screenwriting 101 textbook. There’s Epps (Juliana Margulies), the salvage leader, Greer (Isaiah Washington), the first mate, and Dodge (Ron Eldard), Santos (Alex Dimitriades), and Munder (Karl Urban), the technicians. After a successful haul, the crew is approached by Jack Ferriman (Desmond Harrington), a pilot who captured some strange pictures of a large ship adrift in the middle of the Bering Sea. After some convincing, the crew agrees to try and salvage the ship, and of course, it’s—you guessed it—the Antonia Graza which is now—you guessed it again—a ghost ship.

Once onboard, lots of spooky things start to happen. A little girl named Katie (Emily Browning) appears to Epps, music begins to play out of nowhere, blood pours out of bullet holes in the swimming pool, and so on. The ship and its eerie happenings are effectively realized through impressive art direction, cinematography, and special effects. The ship is a grand, imposing mass of haunting decrepitude, as we see in establishing shots that use decent computer effects. The rest of the special effects are quite good, considering the relatively low budget and content of the movie. They get the job done and, in some instances (like the opening scene), really have a visceral power to them. The interior of the ship hints at a long-past grandeur that has turned into a rotting, rusting spook house. The design of the ship is a happy medium between minimalism and opulence, neither boring us nor overwhelming us.

The story is also surprisingly good, again considering the level we’re working with here. The mystery of the ship holds the screenplay’s interest for a while, and in focusing on this, it manages to catch us off guard more than once in certain plot developments. Once the whole story is revealed to us in a flashback (another compelling sequence, although it’s marred by a mistakenly anachronistic soundtrack cue), the script has still managed to hold a few unexpected surprises. The body count finally starts to rise, although it’s not quite as simplistic as that. At random spots in the movie, small character information is thrown in, which at first seems a cheap way to attempt sympathy for these characters, but it turns out quite different. The developments are actually a story gimmick. The people in the movie die as a direct or indirect result of their flaws. It’s not necessarily an original concept, but compared to an anonymous killer or a murderous website, it’s rather refreshing. The script suffers, however, from bad—no—horrible dialogue, even in terms of the genre. The acting is clunky, save one performance which is able to make a believable transition when the plot requires it to clear everything up.

Ghost Ship was directed by Steve Beck, whose last and first movie was the dreadful 13 Ghosts, and it’s about a big an improvement as you could hope for. 13 Ghosts relied on fast cuts, loud sound effects, flashing lights, and excessive set design to try and create atmosphere. Ghost Ship is a much quieter, more ominous picture that relies on a steadier hand, more trust in the audience’s attention span, and a more plausible story (again, as plausible as possible) to evoke entertainment, and on a certain level, it succeeds more than it should.

Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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