On the fourth day of Halloween, an Italian seductress gave to me: Ghost Ship, (Steve Beck, 2002)
My dad first introduced me to Ghost Ship when I was in high school: a surprising fact, considering he’s not a big horror fan. He said it was a fun movie, and so I sat down and watched it. He was dead on: Ghost Ship is a fun movie. It’s not groundbreaking, it’s not life-changing, but it is fun.
Fuck what you heard
When doing a little research into the film while writing this I was surprised to learn that Ghost Ship was not a box office success, in any way shape or form. I didn’t expect it to be a hit, but it barely recouped its budget according to IMDB. Okay, so it didn’t do well. Not an indicator of quality, right?
Well, Ghost Ship has a miserable 14% on Rotten Tomatoes. And while that’s still better than the page for It Waits, (which doesn’t even have enough reviews to create a score) I honestly don’t really get why this movie got panned. Is it mind-blowing? Nah. But it’s a creepy little gem that I have fun watching, every time. The acting is solid, the plot has a few nice twists, and there’s one montage that is one of my favorite sequences in a horror movie, period.
Ghost Ship is far better than RT would have you believe, I swear. And I’m an RT junkie- I generally think their tomatometer is a solid indicator of a movie’s quality. But please trust me on this one and give Ghost Ship a chance. Pour yourself a cold beverage, grab a snack, and slap it on- I promise you won’t regret it.
…tbh, I have no idea who you are or what your tastes are, and you may very well regret watching this, and spit on the ground and curse the day I was born for such a terrible recommendation.
At any rate, it’s worth a shot.
This is one of the few movies that I think you gotta just watch first, without knowing much-it’s far more fun that way. And I am the spoiler queen- I like knowing what I’m getting into, thank you very much. But if you’re cool with spoilers or have already seen it, read on.
May the defense please rise
Here’s a quick summary:
A group of salvagers are led to the abandoned liner Antonio Grasa, all by a mysterious stranger named Ferriman (Desmond Harrington). After literally crashing into the ship, the crew tries to fix it up enough to tow it back to land, figuring they’ve hit pay dirt. Of course, things are not all as they seem: the crew finds a few clues that imply that they are not the first to find this ship. However, the crew quickly discovers boxes of solid gold in the cargo- suddenly, all thoughts of the danger are sidelined. Determined to recover the gold and the boat, the crew decides to continue in its attempt to salvage the boat. In a “mysterious” accident, the crew’s tugboat explodes, and the crew is left to try and fix the liner, as it is now their only way to safety. The spirits onboard start appearing left and right- some to warn, others to entrap. The crew is slowly whittled off in terrible ways, as usual. Epps (Julianna Margulies) is continuously contacted by the spirit of a little girl, Katie (Emily Browning), who begins to show her the secrets of the ship’s past in the greatest montage ever. Epps is now not only in a fight to fix the boat and save her crew, but to survive against an ancient force.
Movies don’t have to be groundbreaking to be good. Ghost Ship definitely relies on some stale tropes and plot structures, but there are enough clever moments to keep it feeling fresh. It’s fun, and not in the “Jesus Christ who approved this” way. Ghost Ship draws from a lot of great material: The Antonio Grasa is basically the Andrea Doria (an Italian liner that sank off of American waters) combined with the Mary Celeste (a famous “ghost ship” that was found basically untouched, but with no sign of the crew), all with a dash of Greek mythology. It’s quite a combo, but I honestly think they pull it off well.
First things first: the cast of this movie is surprisingly good? Ghost Ship stars people like Julianna Margulies, Karl Urban, Isaiah Washington, Gabriel Byrne- all who deliver solid performances. Ghost Ship might be consigned to the rank of B-Movie, but it’s got a hell of a cast and crew.
I also think that Ghost Ship is paced really well. The opening of this movie is one of the ballsiest openings I’ve ever seen. It involved an incredible effort on the side of the FX team, and boy, does it wake you up. If you haven’t seen it- even if you aren’t planning on watching the whole movie- I’d seriously just YouTube the opening. Be warned, it is very gory. I’ll put a link in the bottom of the review.
But Ghost Ship doesn’t lean on the momentum of the opening to carry it; the tension steadily builds, and the plot is full of little clues that slowly start to add up. The scene where everything does add up is one of the greatest examples of a movie “showing,” and not “telling.” In a sequence set to “My Little Box” by Gabriel Mann, little ghost girl Katie shows Epps exactly what happened on the Antonio Grasa.
It’s a sexy-glam montage that is equal parts music video as it is horrifying and twist-y. It’s brilliant: you get all the info you need as to what happened on the boat, without a single word being spoken. It’s concise and powerful, but packed with story.
Of course, Ghost Ship’s ending is also just as punchy as the opening- spoilers below.
—- SPOILERS AHOY—-
I fucking love the end of this movie. It’s a totally cheap “evil lives on” kind of schtick, and I fall for it every time. I love when horror movies deny the audience closure, and I think Ghost Ship does it pretty well. Shit- Epps makes it, and is about to close her eyes, finally at peace, when abrafuckingcadabra, Ferriman is still alive.
Also: Ferriman? Ferriman? Ferry-man? Like the ferryman? Classic shitty foreshadowing, and I am here for it.
The crew of this film deserve a million awards
Full disclosure: I have watched every “behind-the-scenes” featurette on my Ghost Ship DVD, and this crew put in work. From the FX crew to the set designers, every one of them did an incredible job. The gore is over-the-top, but in the best way imaginable. They also created a super detailed scale model of the boat for full shots, and I’m always a hoe for model work in FX.
So like, ten points to Gryffindor.
Make like ABBA and take chance on me
Bottom line: if you’ve got two hours to kill and can get your hands on a copy of Ghost Ship, I’d recommend giving it a shot. It’s better than a lot of other shit out there, and is pretty memorable. So if you change your mind, this should be first in line.
Featured image source: http://www.impawards.com/2002/posters/ghost_ship.jpg
More info on the Andrea Doria and the Mary Celeste:
Here’s the opening scene:
The beautiful montage: