Ghost Ship

December 5th, 2002 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Directed by Steve Beck

Starring Julianna Margulies, Gabriel Byrne, Ron Eldard, Desmond Harrington, Isiah Washington, Alex Dimitriades

There’s a certain kind of movie called High Concept, born in the 80’s with a parking ticket-sized plot, more visual style than substance and choose-your-stereotype characters. Nowhere is the concept higher than Ghost Ship, where the title gives the whole movie away.

With a template lifted straight from countless haunted house stories over the last century, it tells of a crack ocean-going salvage crew lured to the Antonia Graza, a luxury Italian liner lost in the early 1960’s with a fortune of gold loot in her hold.

When an Air Force pilot (Desmond Harrington) spots the stricken liner off the Alaskan coast, he recruits the crew of the salvage tug Arctic Warrior to collar her for a cut of the spoils.

Once there, things turn nasty. The Antonia Graza is populated with the spirits of the dead crew and passengers, killed in a grotesquely gory opening sequence and laying in wait for unsuspecting 21st century souls to feed on — all ready to pull whatever cheap movie frights they can (including the old ghost in the mirror trick).

Among them is the spirit of a little girl (played by Australia’s Emily Browning) who wants to warn off the ships crew and forms a bond with the formerly ‘tough guy’ female salvage leader Epps (Julianna Margulies), bringing out all sorts of protective and motherly instincts (Hollywood subtext to women everywhere: don’t try to do men’s work, remember what you were put on the Earth for).

But she can’t save them from escalating levels of horrifying visions, visitations from various spectres, and carnage.

In fact, if anything makes the film stand out, it’s the extraordinary amount of bloodshed and gore. The ominous soundtrack builds up the tension, but instead of being true to the horror genre and generating genuine fright (most recently achieved in Gore Verbinski’s The Ring), it opts instead for explosions of shocking violence and death.

As you ponder the crew members getting picked off one by one, you’ll recall an endless string of films from Alien onward, including Leviathan, Deep Star Six, Anaconda and Tremors.

In fact, there’ll come a time when you’ll think you’ve already seen Ghost Ship. It’s an almost perfect copy of 1997’s Event Horizon, complete with crusty, wise ships captain (Lawrence Fishburne), mysterious craft adrift (the ship that gives the movie its name), and visions of slaughter after a trip to the unknown.

The crew of Ghost Ship are also cloned straight from those same Alien rip-offs, a collection of overstretched personalities that ironically have little effect on the plot (or make us care about them). Some of the cast are more than capable of great acting, including Spike Lee regular Isiah Washington, ER’s Margulies and Gabriel Byrne, Ireland’s most awarded actor and one of the best of his generation.

Alex Dimitriades does the Australian understudy bit, playing the same second-billing support player Jacqueline McKenzie did in Deep Blue Sea (side swiping Alex’s credibility as much as the latter did McKenzie’s).

Filmed entirely in Brisbane and the Gold Coast, the formulaic story telling, cheap jack-in-the-box scares and buckets of blood certainly have a place at the movies, but don’t expect to be challenged, confronted with issues or made to think. Collect your brain at the popcorn stand on your way out.

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