by Joe Steiff
Barely stays afloat.
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Horror films are evidently the hot thing right now. And I don’t mean because of Halloween. But rather the notion that horror films are effective outlets for audience’s anxieties about the world around them. This theory doesn’t necessarily require that the horror film parallel metaphorically the real life events creating that anxiety, though one can think of examples that do (such as The Thing or Invasion Of The Body Snatchers). Many horror films may have very little subtextual connection to the real world and yet still server as catharsis in times of trouble. So we shouldn’t be surprised to see a resurgence in the genre.
The most recent entry in this current sweepstakes of horror is Ghost Ship, a moody film in more ways than one. While I don’t think it will keep you up at night, if you like tales of the supernatural, you might find this an interesting exercise.
Ghost Ship’s story is credited to Mark Hanlon who co-wrote the script with several others, but I seem to remember seeing this same story on an old Twilight Zone episode. Certainly, director Steve Beck (Thi3teen Ghosts) adds more gore than 60s television would have allowed and more than I really needed to see. But that probably speaks more to the difference between broadcast television and movies than a difference between the 60s and the 21st Century.
Back in the early 60s, a floating palace masquerading as an Italian cruise liner suffers an apparently deliberate and quite bloody massacre of its passengers. Forty years later, a salvage crew goes in search of a ship photographed by a pilot only to discover the still floating but now abandoned Italian ship, now the stuff of legends because neither it nor its passengers have ever been found.
Pretty quickly, things get bloody, and everyone gets jumpy, but no one seems likely to get off the ship alive. Most of the lighting is designed to make the ship seem as if it were already underwater, and the screen is filled with images of rusty leaking pipes and dripping water as the salvage crew begins to care less about salvaging and more about saving their lives. As is typical in horror stories, there is a moral universe at play here, and the notion of sin is perhaps more overtly explored here than in many horror films.
And if you ignore the arbitrarily gory first scene and the incredibly stupid final scene that defies the story logic established for the previous 90 minutes and meant only to give the audience that final if somewhat weak gasp, this film works pretty well. Sure it owes to a strange mix of influences ranging from Alien to Titanic. There are some strange lapses in character awareness (if I had just found a bunch of freshly killed bodies, I wouldn’t ignore the fact) and forced conflict (enough with the punching each other and arguing). Which is to say that the film has a kind of odd pacing. Important developments are glossed over while others seem to receive too much emphasis.
And clichés abound. All of the ethnic guys die first (the Hispanic guy, the Black guy, the Irish guy) until it’s just the white guys (and gal) of mid-western European decent left. And if you can’t figure out who’s gonna ultimately survive, you clearly stumbled into the wrong movie because you’re not a horror fan at all. The shame is that we never really care about any of them. Characters come, characters go. Not with much feeling. This is simply a functional paint-by-numbers film of the supernatural. Which is too bad.
The cinematography and “time” effects are impressive, the cast is talented. There can be a certain comfort in the familiar, and if you don’t mind seeing something you’ve seen before, this could be the film for you. As long as you pay matinee prices.
Joe Steiff remembers all too well working late at the library and facing completion anxiety. Hell, he just had to deal with all of that writing this review…
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