GHOST SHIP (2002) 

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Gabriel Byrne
Julianna Margulies
Ron Eldard
Desmond Harrington
Isaiah Washington
Alex Dimitriades
Karl Urban
Emily Browning
Francesca Rettondini

Steve Beck


Time: 91 mins.
Rating: R
Genre: Horror

GHOST SHIP has more style and better acting than most horror flicks these days, but a limp, unfinished plot leaves one waiting for answers, as well as begging for the by-the-book ending. Anything to get off that ship. The film begins great with what has to be the most imaginatively gruesome bloodletting ever filmed for thrills. It's so ridiculously awful I didn't know whether to look away or chuckle, so I laughed through my fingertips. If only the rest of the film towed the same line between sheer horror and uncomfortable comedy, the trip wouldn't have been as painful as a Carnival Cruise with Kathy Lee as your roommate. The premise is not exactly original – people trapped somewhere (house, boat, space, etc.) and killed one by one by evil creature, supernatural or otherwise. Sometimes, it works really well (ALIEN, HALLOWEEN, JAWS), however, the losers far outweigh the winners in this category. In this instance, the filmmakers gather a fairly able cast for a B-movie and fill the 90 minutes with slick special effects, yet are unable to generate a single honest scare.

Everything after the opening sequence is a let down. Perhaps they should have shown less in order to add suspense to the not exactly complicated mystery. Julianna Margulies takes the lead as the tough, salvage boat babe who, along with her crew mates, finds more than she bargains for after accepting a job to recover a ship floating aimlessly in international waters. The crew is run by Byrne, a taciturn captain who doesn't always play by the rules. Greed is their inspiration for taking the job and it's what eventually does them in. That and an evil spirit bent on securing their demise. Their initial excitement at finding the ship, an Italian ocean liner that disappeared without a trace 40 years earlier, quickly turns to dread when strange, life-threatening events begin to occur. Their dreams of extreme wealth become desperate bids for personal survival. Epps (Margulies) makes contact with the ghost of one of the passengers, a young girl named Katie (Browning), who reveals to Epps the total horror of her last night on Earth. She's being held captive on the ship, along with the souls of all the other passengers by an evil presence determined to add Epps and her buddies to the tally.

"Congratulations! You found a boat, in the middle of the ocean."

Needless to say, the eventual reveal of the evil behind the ghost ship isn't as intriguing as the premise suggests. In fact, it's more than a little muddled and unclear. Sure, the main goal is understandable, it's just the manner in which it's achieved that seems rather pointless and time-consuming. Certainly a being of pure evil could come up with a faster way to kill large groups of people than by luring them out to a boat in the middle of nowhere. Why the boat was even necessary is one of the many questions left unanswered. The salvage team was brought onboard to patch the damage and keep it afloat, I assume in order that it could continue to lure treasure seekers to their doom. In the end, it doesn't really matter. What's important is that we get to enjoy hundreds of senseless and brutal deaths, as evil raises the body count. No one is safe, except the little girl who's already dead. Margulies gets to stretch her real muscles as the dame who saves the day. As she showed in many seasons on E.R., she has integrity, empathy, energy and emotional depth. You actually care what happens to her cookie cutter character.

As for the rest of the cast, feature film exposure can't hurt. Even a silly horror pic is better than a movie-of-the-week on cable. Except perhaps for Byrne. His talent is completely wasted here. Much like Eric Stoltz in ANACONDA, his presence is merely for marque value, which is a shame because he could have brought more than his name to the table. Unfortunately, the script doesn't ask him, nor any of the other actors, to do more than die terribly. The ladies, including Browning and Rettondini, as the deadly lounge singer, fair somewhat better. Margulies and Browning manage to make an honest connection in between the bloodshed. Rettondini doesn't have much to say, but she makes her presence known in a sexy and fatal way. Margulies alone raises the IQ of the picture with her innate intelligence and fiery persona.

Unfortunately, true suspense is sacrificed for cheap thrills. This film would be an even bigger bust without the special effects, which are classy and highly effective, though they can't save the weak plot. I should have known better, but I was seduced by the cast, the look and the idea of a little mindless Halloween fun. Too bad I got my wish. For me, the film's biggest surprise was not what happens to the passengers, but that Satan works on a quota system. GHOST SHIP is a film with all flash and zero substance. However, if you like your horror uncomplicated with a lot of gore, this will satisfy your bloodlust.

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