|Ghost Ship (2002)|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Friday, 28 March 2003|
A prologue that makes “Ghost Ship” at its outset look like a ‘50s/’60s travelogue romance, sets us in the year 1962 aboard the Italian luxury liner Antonia Graza, where wealthy guests are enjoying the shipboard band on deck. The party is interrupted by a really horrific incident – any horror film that has 80 fairly graphic casualties up front gets the audience’s attention.
Flash forward to the present, as the fiercely loyal crew of the little salvage vessel Arctic Warrior celebrate their latest haul. Capt. Murphy (Gabriel Byrne) and his second in command Epps (Margulies) are approached by Jack Ferriman (Desmond Harrington), a Canadian Air Force pilot who has found a huge, evidently empty ship drifting in the Bering Sea. Ferriman offers to guide the Arctic Warrior team to the vessel in exchange for a cut of whatever they find on board. The ship (no surprise to the viewers) turns out to be the Andrea Graza, which contains both treasure and signs of torment. It doesn’t take long for the surroundings to come to nasty unlife for the visitors …
Director Steve Beck and producers Joel Silver, Robert Zemeckis and Gilbert Adler, who all previously teamed on “Thirteen Ghosts,” have a much better handle on the horror this time out, doing a far smoother job of balancing very dark humor with the scares. Beck and writers Mark Hanlon and John Pogue, working from Hanlon’s story, craft some setpieces that are what horror buffs live for (and everyone else ducks under the seats to avoid) – the opening sequence qualifies as a classic and it’s tough to beat the decaying, claustrophobic opulence of a haunted luxury liner for Gothic atmosphere. Beck stages some effective “gotcha” shots (a few of which subvert our expectations by setting up one danger and organically switching it for another) and his music video treatment (to “Superhoney”) of a massacre manages to be cool and cruel without lapsing into self-parody.
An actual music video, Mudvayne’s “Not Falling” (heard once as source music in Chapter 4 and again over the closing credits), is in the supplemental materials serves as an effective (if spoiler-laden) trailer, with a blood ‘n’ guts level that makes it an unlikely candidate for MTV rotation.
The surround mix on “Ghost Ship” is satisfyingly dimensional. In Chapter 5, we get a strong, vibrating ship’s motor, a palpable collision and crashing metal that starts in the mains and falls into the rears. In Chapter 6, the soundtrack is used for an effective scare as floorboards abruptly give way beneath a character, with echoes in the rears that give us a sonic sense of space. In Chapter 9, the rears are used again to produce cavernous, metallic echoes that admirably do not bleed over a very specific clink as a metal object hits the deck. Chapter 14 contains a very credible, lengthy and dimensional explosion, with discrete detonations in the mains and rears. In a supernatural flashback in Chapter 18, there are some cool, trippy effects as the ballroom resurrects itself around a bewildered crew member (Isaiah Washington), with enveloping applause in both the mains and rears. Chapter 26 has an explosion that makes it sound like we’re at ground zero, with separate hell blasting out of each speaker.
Supplemental materials are highly enjoyable, although an audio commentary track (there is none) would have been a welcome feature. The making-of featurette is agreeable, the visual effects featurette is fairly illustrative and informative and the production design piece is likewise informative. Best of all for horror fans (the target audience here), there is a featurette focusing on the plentiful gore, with KNB honcho Howard Berger talking us through the various efforts of his team. “Secrets of the Antonia Graza” is a fun extra for those who like Easter Eggs but don’t want to search all over the disc – it’s not too hard to figure out how to get this to work. The more-or-less patient player is rewarded with four separate “missing scene” clips that provide backstory on events in the film.
“Ghost Ship” doesn’t entirely get around the problem of silly-sounding horror movie exposition, but the game cast do a decent job of making it sound reasonably natural. Margulies is a capable action heroine and gets good support from her castmates, especially Washington and Karl Urban.
“Ghost Ship” doesn’t reinvent the genre, but it does have some fresh ideas, strong scares, respectable gross-outs and generally provides the thrills one seeks from an alternative haunted house movie.