It’s been a very wet Halloween season–if not weather-wise, at least in terms of movies designed to feed the holiday spirit. First came “The Ring,” whose heroine not only took an elaborate ferry ride to a remote island but wound up drenched at the bottom of a deep well where the solution to the mystery was submerged. Then there was a haunted-sub flick, “Below.” And now we’ve got “Ghost Ship,” in which the vessel is above water; but the movie’s still a soggy, shapeless mess.
The premise of the picture is perilously close to the 1999 bomb “Virus”–something which probably bothered the makers little since very few people bothered to see that stinker. Still, the idea isn’t any better the second time around. The intrepid, profit-seeking crew of a tugboat finds the wreckage of a ship that could make them rich–but on boarding it, they find themselves threatened by mysterious evil. In “Virus,” the bogeyman was some sort of alien electrical creature that had taken over a massive transport boat; here it’s just ordinary spooks trapped in the wreckage of the palatial Italian liner, the Antonia Graza, which disappeared mysteriously in 1962.
“Ship” thus tries to pique our interest by adding a dose of “Titanic” to the “Virus” formula, but we’re still left with endless scenes of cardboard characters creeping about dark hallways and long-deserted cabins while the hulk creaks and groans until some apparition shows up to offer a quick, inconclusive jolt. There’s an eventual explanation for the ship’s demise and reappearance, of course, and for the presence of the spirits there, but it’s the sort of thing Rod Serling would have relegated to the reject pile forty years ago, and ultimately it’s just a dumb excuse for a waterlogged equivalent of a haunted house movie.
This sort of simpleminded creep-fest can work, if done with style and panache. But director Steve Beck, who fumbled badly with his first feature, the dreadful remake of “Thirteen Ghosts,” shows no more affinity for the genre in this instance. (Once again Robert Zemeckis, devotee of William Castle-style schlock, serves as producer. He seems intent on proving that lots of younger fellows can make thrillers even worse than his own “What Lies Beneath.”) Beck does manage a fairly stylish, if terribly gory (and rather constricted), opening sequence set back in 1962, but once the creaky plot revs into motion, his touch grows heavy and uncertain; he aims to recapture the initial stylishness in a flashback recounting the original disaster that befell the ship, but the elaborate sequence has too much blood and other unpleasantries, and ends up as a cheap imitation of the ghostly ballroom episodes in Kubrick’s “The Shining.” The cast manfully goes through the motions to little effect, stuck as they are in utterly caricatured roles. Julianna Margulies is Epps, the strong, self-reliant woman (a bargain-basement version of “Alien”‘s Ripley); Gabriel Byrne plays the sad-faced, world-weary tug captain (not quite as embarrassing as Donald Sutherland’s “Virus” skipper, but quite shy of his best); Desmond Harrington is the handsome aircraft pilot who finds the ship and joins the salvage crew, but who’s just a trifle odd; Ron Eldard is the extroverted expedition member smitten with Epps and Isaiah Washington the by-the-book first officer; and Karl Urban and Alex Dimitriades are, respectively, the sloppy tech wiz and the grubby engineer. Little Emily Browning plays Katie, a sort of Casperette the Friendly Ghost who contacts Epps in order to reveal the answers to the mysteries, in predictably heart-tugging fashion.
As usual in such tales, everything is shot in an undistinguished gloom, by Gale Tattersall, and suffused with a turgid, lumbering score, provided this time around by John Frizzell.
It’s not surprising that at the end of the day, the “Ghost Ship” sinks. Long before that, it stinks–not as badly as “Thirteen Ghosts,” but pretty pungently nonetheless.