There comes a day when you’re too big to don a superhero
outfit and hit up your neighbors for candy, and too old to
get sloppy-drunk enough to hit on your pals. When that day
comes, your only reason to look forward to Halloween is for
a passably decent horror flick. And from the trailer, you’d think Ghost
Ship might deliver. It should have everything going for
it—a decent cast, a high-concept story (the title has been
used at least twice before), nifty opening credits in a swirly-girly
pink font that suggests a hint of camp forthcoming. But there’s
the dark side, as in its production company, Dark Castle Entertainment,
created by Silver and Zemeckis to carry on the
legacy of horrormeister William Castle. Apparently
without thought as to whether that legacy ought to be perpetuated,
Dark Castle Entertainment has been remaking screamers like
13 Ghosts and House On Haunted Hill. Ghost Ship
is the company’s first original-story, if we can call it that,
The rough-and-ready crew of the salvage boat Arctic Warrior
is decompressing in a bar after a lucrative job, when Ferriman
(Harrington), the proverbial complete stranger offers
to cut them in on the ground floor of what could be a really
big score. If your alarm bells don’t ring when well-spoken
strangers appear out of the blue with multi-million-dollar
deals, I’ve got a bridge you might be interested in. Captain
Murphy (Byrne), his partner Epps (Margulies),
and the rest of the brave and gallant crew ship out, with
Ferriman along as guide. The unidentified floating object
turns out to be the Antonia Graza, a luxury liner that disappeared
in the early 1960s, a salvager’s definition of bootylicious.
If all goes well, everyone is about to become very, very rich.
But of course, all does not go well. And I, who so very much
wanted to like this movie, could not give two shits.
The essential building blocks of a horror movie are dread,
mystery, and empathy for the characters. Gore and gotcha help,
but reflect back, for example, on M, an exemplary horror
film, and you’ll see that gore and gotcha are nice, not necessary.
This story builds no dread whatsoever, though it does dole
out some inventive gore and plenty of gotcha. No surprise
there; Steve Beck was a visual effects wiz (The
Abyss, Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade) before he was
a director. The screenwriters throw in a kid, a stock ploy
to ramp up the sympathy/peril index, but it’s clear here that
the kid is in no danger, so what’s that about? There’s no
mystery about the fate of the passengers and crew of the Antonia
Graza; we’re shown that in the first minutes of Ghost Ship.
It remains for the characters to discover what happened.
The crewmembers, disposable generics of the Yeoman Shmoe
variety killed by the score on “Star Trek,” lack characterization
almost entirely. Greer (Washington), whose wedding
is mere days away, tries to be a do-right guy, but that’s
about as deep as it gets. The lead here is Margulies, and
her Epps has such nice characterizations, aside from the misstep
of some initial lame, tough-babe dialogue, that she’s almost
out of place in this stinker. Epps is a woman holding her
own in a male-dominated profession. She’s proficient and she’s
a leader of men. She has a full complement of fears—both the
garden-variety ones and the completely understandable fear
of the weirdnesses going down on the ship. But she’s able
to show those fears and then do what has to be done. And once
she discovers the bad guy, a soul salvager whose identity
was IMed to us way early in the movie, she gets her mind around
the problem without any time-wasting breaks to adjust to the
new world order. The screenwriters must have been thinking
of Ripley when they wrote this rather full-fleshed horror
heroine role. Epps is the best of Ghost Ship. But we
don’t spend $7.75 to see someone workshop their script, now
Gabriel Byrne brings a certain gravity to whatever he’s in,
which means it’s like he’s in a whole ’nother movie from everyone
else. Margulies give a pretty good performance, considering
the material. She should really seek out more of these butch-lite
roles; they suit her. Then there a couple of things, probably
caviling, but… There’s the scene where you’ll go, “Oh no.
How come a brother always got to be the first to die?” Then,
guess what? He doesn’t die. Another person of color dies.
Gosh. We’re movin’ on up? There’s some cheesy-bad “undersea
adventure” music during some scenes, and some heavy metal
so inappropriately placed you’ll smack your forehead in wonder.
Reviewers don’t pay to see movies, but we wanted our time
back. Ghost Ship, feh.