Review: Ghost Ship (2002)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #717

Number of Views: Two
Release Date: October 25, 2002
Sub-Genre: Supernatural
Country of Origin: United States, Australia
Budget: $20,000,000
Box Office: $68,300,000
Running Time: 90 minutes
Director: Steve Beck
Producers: Joel Silver, Robert Zemeckis, Susan Levin
Screenplay: Mark Hanlon, John Pogue
Special Effects: Jason Baird, Angelo Sahin
Visual Effects: Dale Duguid, James Rogers
Cinematography: Gale Tattersall
Score: John Frizzell
Editing: Roger Barton
Studios: Dark Castle Entertainment, Village Roadshow Pictures
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Stars: Julianna Margulies, Gabriel Byrne, Ron Eldard, Desmond Harrington, Isaiah Washington, Karl Urban, Alex Dimitriades, Emily Browning, Francesca Rettondini, Adam Bieshaar

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Cypress Hill “When The Ship Goes Down”

[2] Monica Mancini “Senza Fine”

[3] The Andrews Sisters “Show Me The Way To Go Home”

I make no secret of how thoroughly depressing I found the bulk of horror output around the turn of the millennium. The nineties were a positively wretched decade for the genre, with woefully few genuine flashes of brilliance amidst an ocean of studio-produced dross. Indeed, it wasn’t until around 2005 that things began to pick up again and horror started to regain some much-needed credibility.

American production label, Dark Castle Entertainment, had grand designs of making this sleeping giant fashionable once more when they formed in 1999 and, with the likes of Joel Silver, Robert Zemeckis, and Gilbert Adler spearheading the charge, it appeared there was sufficient financial clout behind the movement to support their vision. However, while profit margins were impressive, the movies they churned out were some way less inspiring.

Crowd pleasing fare such as William Malone’s House on Haunted Hill, Steve Beck’s Thir13en Ghosts, Mathieu Kassovitz’s Gothika and Stephen Hopkins’ The Reaping may have enjoyed a reasonable level of commercial success, but the reviews were far from hospitable and none particularly pushed the envelope with regards to invention. Jaume Collet-Serra’s House of Wax fared no better with the critics although, in my humble opinion, this grossly underrated chiller actually nailed the tone just about spot on.

Meanwhile, Beck got in on the act a second time with Ghost Ship in 2002 and, while torn asunder for being utterly throwaway, found at least one way aside from the delicious poster design of making itself memorable to the masses. Taking his cue from the in-vogue Final Destination series, he kicked things off with evisceration on a massive scale and this set a fair few tongues wagging in the process.

Please allow me to set the mood. The year is 1962 and the party is in full swing aboard the luxurious Italian ocean liner, SS Antonia Graza. This evening’s entertainment comes courtesy of sultry songbird Francesca who is currently busting out her own sensual rendition of Senza Fine. Some passengers sip from their stems of vintage Moët while others are happy just to dance the night away free of a solitary care in the world.

Alas, the celebrations are about to be cut short in the most literal of manners as a whining winch suddenly bursts into life, setting in motion a chain of events that has absolutely no intention of ending well. As the spool snaps and a rogue length of high-tension electrical cable slices and dices the entire ballroom in one fell swoop, Ghost Ship now has our full and undivided attention. If only it had the faintest inkling what to do with it.

Fast forward forty years and the crew of a salvage ship named Arctic Warrior – Epps (Julianna Margulies), Greer (Isaiah Washington), Dodge (Ron Eldard), Munder (Karl Urban), Santos (Alex Dimitriades) and salty sea dog captain Murphy (Gabriel Byrne) – are busy toasting their recent success when Canadian weather service pilot Jack (Desmond Harrington) approaches them with an offer way too good to refuse.

According to him, a vessel has been spotted floating aimlessly in the Bering Sea and it’s finders keepers for anyone willing to commandeer it. After a brief discussion, they decide to head off in their tugboat and do precisely that. The ship in question is the Antonio Graza and hasn’t been spotted since that fateful night so it appears they’ve hit pay dirt, particularly when they dock alongside this gargantuan liner and discover the solid gold bounty it carries.

Needless to say, collecting this particular salvo is going to be easier said than done as the Graza has its own grand designs, none of which entail accommodating their desire to become rich beyond their wildest imaginings. Instead, tonight’s entrée will be mind games, followed swiftly by a main course of blind terror, with dessert consisting of walking the plank into seven freshly prepared watery graves that are anything but shallow.

Beck has a full deck at his disposal to play with and the floating mausoleum of the title certainly has the ability to slacken those nerves but, despite both the art direction and photography being up to snuff, it isn’t long before the sinking feeling commences and not in a good way either.

To be fair, the blame cannot be placed on the doorsteps of its more than able ensemble cast. Margulies makes for a satisfyingly feisty heroine in the kind of role once custom-built for Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Byrne can pull off salty sea dog on his default setting, and everyone else grabs an oar accordingly. The chief issue is that Mark Hanlon and John Pogue’s shallow end screenplay provides our water babies precious few avenues to do anything other than paddle politely where a dash more care and attention could have risen Beck’s sunken wreck from the algae within which it ultimately resides.

There’s just not enough oomph if you ask me. Granted, it was never realistically going to measure up to its bandstand opening, but an abandoned liner should be positively oozing consternation and here it feels like we’re going simply through the motions. Any suspense generated isn’t sustained anywhere near long enough and numerous opportunities to crank things up a gear are squandered, leaving Ghost Ship the mere apparition of a far better movie.

It just all feels so dreadfully by-the-numbers and, after bolting his load with such a pristine prologue, Beck is left with precious little to spread across the following 85 minutes. In addition, one particular third act revelation doesn’t ring at all true and you won’t need a lighthouse to fathom the soggy conclusion.

Harsh words I know but it is evocative of the kind of soulless dreck that had become acceptable to spoon-feed audiences by the early noughties and, after being given precious little to get excited about for so long, such wasteful endeavor made both my dick and balls itch in unison. It’s not that Beck’s film is especially wretched, more that it’s neither deep nor shallow. Instead, Ghost Ship is content to tread water with one hand on the stern at all times and sinks without trace come the credits. Glug!

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 5/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: I’ve got to give Beck his dues, the dance floor decimation is somewhat impressive and, while CGI is preferred as the dominos fall, the effects are decent enough not to compromise the mass slaughter. Regrettably, outside of a spot of impalement, there’s little else here to get excited about and most of the deaths are uninspired to say the very least.

Read House of Wax Appraisal
Read Death Ship Appraisal
Read Triangle Appraisal
Read Harpoon: Whale Watching Massacre Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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