So sue me if I think director Steve Beck has a bright future in the horror genre. (Or at least, the horror genre as it exists today.) He’s already proven to me (if to no one else, natch) with his feature debut “13 Ghosts” that his background in visual special effects adds tremendously to his ability to render an effective ghost. Beck’s latest film is “Ghost Ship”, about a haunted cruise liner thought lost 40 years ago, only to resurface suddenly and without explanation.
Gabriel Byrne (“The Man in the Iron Mask”) leads the charge as Captain Murphy, a former boozehound forever tempted by the dreaded bottle. Among Murphy’s small and close-knit crew of fortune hunters is Epps (Julianna Margulies), the daughter he never had, and four other males, including token Hispanic Santos (Alex Dimitriades) and token Black Greer (Isaiah Washington). Intrigued by a stranger’s proposal, the crew goes in search of a long-missing ship. Suddenly stumbling upon the vessel, the crew discovers gold bars in the $100s of millions. And oh yeah, the cruise liner’s former occupants are still onboard!
Movies like “Ghost Ship” (despite the title) is really not as concerned about scaring you as it is about thrilling you. “Ghost Ship” is really a Last Stand in a Haunted House movie, with Murphy’s crew being trapped inside the derelict cruise liner as it streaks toward certain death. The supernatural entity that is hunting the crew turns out to be more than a ghost; worst, it’s a ghost with an agenda that sounds awfully like a — gasp! — job! (Yes, that last part really is as silly as it sounds, I’m afraid.)
Cruising right along to its silly ending (complete with a laughable twist that reveals the identity of the killer/killers), “Ghost Ship” still manages to help pass the time with a reasonable amount of shock scenes and blood and guts. The opening sequence, where the cruise liner’s patrons and crew are sliced in half by a runaway metal rope, is a real crowd pleaser. But alas, you know you’re watching a movie that has no interest in being innovative when it employs the tried and true gimmick of “now you see it, now you don’t”, where a character spots a ghost, is distracted and looks off screen, only to look back and the ghost is gone! Oh dear, how…old.
I’m really not sure why ex-“ER” star Julianna Margulies chose “Ghost Ship” as one of her first post-“ER” roles. She’s the Ellen Ripley type here, and just like Ripley, everyone refers to Margulies as “Epps” instead of her first name, “Maureen.” You see, by calling her by her last name the movie has effectively removed her feminism, thus making her as tough as the guys, so we can root for her. Or some such nonsense.
Joining Margulies in this exercise in instant shock gratification is her former “ER” co-star Ron Eldard, who plays Dodge, one of the “other guys” in Murphy’s crew. Try as they might, all four are really interchangeable. Santos is an engineer who talks to a photo of his dream car and Greer is — well, I don’t really know what Greer does, besides pine for his fianc’e. I do know that Munder (Karl Urban) and Dodge spend an awful lot of time together playing paper, rock, and scissors. Actually, besides watching Gabriel Byrne sleepwalk from scene to scene trying to avoid the bottle, the screenwriters never bothered with a background for any of the characters, including Margulies’ Epps. Not that it would have mattered, mind you.
Despite all of its many faults, and its strangely blas’ ending, “Ghost Ship” did manage to entertain me, mostly due to director Steve Beck’s flair for the visuals. “Ghost Ship” also has a nice pace, and at just under 90 minutes, the movie is over before you know it. The First Act is all about establishing Murphy’s crew as they locate the ship and discover its content; the Second Act concerns the “master ghost” as it separates the crew and dispatch them one by one; and the Third Act involves — well, the less said about the lazy Third Act the better.
“Ghost Ship”, like Beck’s last movie, is no horror masterpiece. It’s a guilty pleasure, but it is a pleasure to watch — for the most part. The setup is fast and there are enough cheap thrills to last 90 minutes worth of celluloid. Margulies makes a fair heroine and Emily Browning, as the ghost girl in all of the trailers, is appropriately spooky. Maybe it’s her awfully pale face, or that weird British accent of hers, but her character really works.
Steve Beck (director) / Mark Hanlon, John Pogue (screenplay)
CAST: Gabriel Byrne …. Capt. Sean Murphy
Julianna Margulies …. Maureen Epps
Ron Eldard …. Dodge
Desmond Harrington …. Jack Ferriman
Isaiah Washington …. Greer