After a successful rescuing of a sinking boat, a ship salvaging crew is celebrating in a local bar. That is, of course, until John Ferriman (Desmond Harrington), a weather service pilot comes to congratulate them and offer them a job. On a routine fly over, he spotted a ship adrift in international waters, and couldn’t get in contact with it. And since it appears to be a massive ship, he promises big returns. So they set off for the ship with their tugboat. However, when they arrive, something feels off, and some even suggest it is haunted. What could possibly go wrong? Well, as it is a horror film, absolutely everything.
Ghost Ship began it’s life in 2002 as a spec script called Chimera. It had a much stronger focus on psychological horror, and was pretty much gore-free. It was more about the crew’s building fear and their possible insanity, as well as a possibility that nothing supernatural was happening at all, and it was simply cabin fever. It was a much more interesting idea, and could have been great. So of course, Joel Silver came along and re-wrote it into a gore-filled slasher set on a boat. Oh, the joy.
To be fair, Ghost Ship is much better than it could have been. Of course it still isn’t very good, but it could have been worse. The acting is passable, with Julianna Margulies doing a good job of being the film’s resident Ellen Ripley, and there is a surprising ‘hey, it’s that guy’ moment when a virtually unrecognisable Karl Urban shows up in a supporting role. It does have some decent scares, and the mythology is interesting enough to keep you invested. It is a shame they felt the need to cram so much gore, because it isn’t scary and just comes across as silly, excluding the opening, which is very creative and well done, and suitably cringe-worthy and gives a good taster as to what is coming.
Where Ghost Ship fails is in the writing. The characters are all cardboard cut outs that don’t develop in the slightest (unless you count dying in spectacularly gory ways as significant character growth), and the dialogue is flat, forced, and stilted, with no charisma (expect Karl Urban, but that’s just because he’s Karl Urban) or likeability in anyone. Like I mentioned before, the deaths can come full circle and start becoming silly, especially one hilarious scene involving maggots that’s disgusting and really, really funny at the same time. The villain reveal at the end is surprising, but poorly handled with no elements being set up beforehand, so we’re left for the big bad having to spurt out a monologue full of half-baked exposition that grinds the pacing to a halt. It reminds me of the original Friday the 13th, where the villain is revealed in the last 15 minutes with no build up, so they are just left to narrate their motivation as quickly as possible so they can get to the final showdown.
Ghost Ship is a film that could have been great, but was butchered to meet the typical studio slasher model. It’s entertaining, no doubt about it, and it has moments of greatness, but they are fleeting and infrequent, and the rest is simply mediocre. Some good acting and the occasional well-done scene can’t save what is essentially a low rate slasher that was forgotten about within weeks of it’s release. If you want a good ship-based horror film, stick with Triangle.