On Second Thought: “Ghost Ship”

Ghost stories have been around for about as long as films have been made. Some are better than others and can stand the test of time. However, due to how long this type of film has been around, there’s seldom anything new that can be done. Once you’ve seen one ghost terrorizing someone, you’ve seen them all. Is it at all possible to make a ghost film scary, fun, and stand out on its own?

The Warner Bros. Pictures film “Ghost Ship”, is good on unnecessary blood and gore, but comes up way short when it comes to any kind of good scares.

This horror film stars Julianna Margulies (“The Good Wife”, “Stand Up Guys”), Ron Eldard (“Poker Night”, “Justified”), Desmond Harrington (“The Neon Demon”, “Limitless (2015 TV series)”), Isaiah Washington (“The 100”, “Secret Summer”), Alex Dimitriades (“Secret City”, “Wanted”), Karl Urban (“Pete’s Dragon (2016)”, “Star Trek Beyond”), Emily Browning (“Shangri-La Suite”, “Legend”), and Gabriel Byrne (“Marco Polo”, “The 33”).

The film was directed by Steve Beck (“Thir13en Ghosts”) and written by Mark Hanlon (“Buddy Boy”) and John Pogue (“The Quiet Ones”, “Quarantine 2: Terminal”).

The film originally opened on Oct. 25, 2002.

I remember loving this film when it came out. Somehow it was just all kinds of fun! Then, as tends to happen, I lost track of it. I never took the time to seek it out again and see if I still liked it. Then, chance happens. I don’t usually like surprises, but this one just had me all kinds of excited. I found a copy of this film in a box, in the attic, and couldn’t wait to put it in! Thus, we find ourselves here. My excitement level has decreased a lot, but at least I got to watch it again. Even more important, at least for me, I got to watch another film that Margulies did, and it’s just so interesting to see her choices before she took on Alicia Florick in “The Good Wife”, which was phenomenal its entire run.

While Margulies’ most recent TV venture was beyond good and constantly fun to watch, this film, less so. I guess you could find something enjoyable, that keeps you invested even throughout all that is terrible, but you’re not going to want to buy your own copy, or even admit you’ve ever seen this.

What makes this film slightly better than many other ghost films that came before, during or after this time period, is what the character’s do. From my recollection, a lot of ghost stories just have random and unsuspecting people stumbling upon a haunted site. This could also show that it’s been some time since I saw a ghost film, or that I actually haven’t watched many of them. This is also making me wonder when the last enjoyable ghost film was? Anyway. With this film, you’ve got a group of people who have a purpose. They’re salvagers. While they do unknowingly enter a haunted ship, they’re doing it because it’s a passion of theirs. It’s what they do for a living. Just them being salvagers is something I don’t think has ever been used, so I have to give the writers credit for that. If it weren’t for this little nugget, well, and Margulies, I don’t think I would’ve even rewatched it.

Coming in second, which I almost forgot about, are the crew members. Sure you never learned anything deep about the individual characters, or possibly anything at all, but you didn’t need to. The film was about these characters as a whole unit, and pretty quickly you saw them work together and benefit from their individual talents and see how it is they’re such a good team. The crew was family. How could they not be? That was everything I needed, even though I never truly cared for any of the other character’s like I did about Margulies. There was something about her, not simply because of who she is, that made her character all the more interesting. Perhaps it’s just because she had many more badass moments. Many more times where she had to take charge and be a leader. Whatever it was, you at least had one character to cheer for and get excited about when she came on screen.

What you wouldn’t get excited about, and no doubt wasted some energy already doing, are the scares. Well, it’s really non-scary scares. They were bad. They were lazy. They were predictable. They were jump scares. That’s it. They were also quite gory, which if it hadn’t been apparent in this piece, is the only consistent thing this film had. How anyone could get excited about that is beyond me. I can’t even really continue. That’s how bad they were. There’s nothing I or anyone could say that’ll change just how lazy this film got with its scares. Now, perhaps this has something to do with the fact that the writers clearly didn’t know how to craft a horror film, of any sort, or the execution was just bad. If a scary moment isn’t set up well enough, it’s not going to scare you. Certainly not in any meaningful or lasting way. This film had nothing working on you. You had no reason to be afraid. You were probably in more danger in “Tower of Terror”, and that was a made-for-TV movie.

But what makes this film even worse is the overall execution. With all this film’s faults, which could’ve easily still been there with different and potentially better execution, execution shouldn’t have been one of them. When I saw this film, especially after it was over, I began seeing the many different ways this story could’ve unfolded. So many different ways that might’ve made this ghost story stand out. For starters, which really irked me when we got to it, there was no need for the opening sequence. I wish I could say this is based on how gory it was, but it’s not, even though it was unnecessarily gory. It’s the fact that this allowed us to be led by the hand through the rest of the film. It was really paint by numbers. And then you get to the big moment, you know, the one that irked me. It’s basically replayed for us, in a vision. Sure there’s a bit more to see of the guests on this ship being murdered, but it became redundant. Seeing it at the beginning of the film told me all I needed to know. If the writers had been smarter, they wouldn’t have begun the film the way they did. We would’ve been somewhat surprised instead of just grossed out.

The other perk, which should’ve been there the whole time, is that feeling of mystery. There should’ve been more of an unknown feeling when you were on this ship. A lot more suspense building could’ve also been had. Going in blind, which we all kind of did, but still never sure of what happened, might’ve yielded a lot more. Certainly more scares that weren’t of the jump variety. One such attempt was had, but by then you didn’t really care about the “twist”. You just wanted off the damn ship. Certainly having more suspense and mystery could’ve made the film feel like there was some danger. Danger easily could’ve come from anywhere. The ship itself, with it being about 40 years old and all, would’ve been a nice way to make me feel uncertain of every hallway and room.

Horror films with ghosts. It can’t get much worse than that. Perhaps it’s a good thing I can’t recall the last horror film featuring ghosts I saw. Knowing what I know now, if I missed it, there’s a really good reason why. If this particular genre has died out, as much as it ever will, let’s hope it stays that way. There enough shitty horror films that shouldn’t exist, do we really need to bring back non-scary ghosts? Hell, I don’t even want to see “Casper” remade or get a sequel. That’s how much I think I’m over ghosts.

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