Ghost Ship (2002): My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean (And It's Cut Up Into Little Pieces)

I was feeling adrift after watching Triangle, and I wasn’t quite sure what to watch next. In the end, I suppose my waterlogged mind was in the mood for another spot of nautical horror. So while perusing the selections at Netflix, I came across a film I had all but forgotten, 2002’s Ghost Ship. I vaguely recall wanting to see it when it was in the theaters. After all, it starred Gabriel Byrne, was directed by Thirteen Ghosts’ Steve Beck, and centered around ghostly goings-on, one of my favorite horror subjects. The lukewarm reviews scared me off in its theatrical run, and in the intervening years, the film slipped out of my mind completely. One might say it vanished without a trace, like, you know, a Ghost Ship.

It all begins when Captain Sean Murphy (Gabriel Byrne) and the crew of the Artic Warrior make it to port after spending six months at sea. They are approached by Jack Ferriman (Desmond Harrington) who has photos of a huge derelict ship adrift in the Bering Strait. Jack proposes a partnership to salvage the ship which the crew reluctantly accepts as they are unable to resist the lure of a major score. When they finally catch up with the ship, it turns out to be the Antonia Graza, an Italian luxury liner lost since 1962. They board the ship and find little physical evidence of the passengers, but while they find the ship is loaded down with a fortune in gold, they also begin to suspect that there a sinister, supernatural force at work on the ship.

Ghost Ship was the third production to come out of Dark Castle Entertainment, a company formed in 1999 by Joel Silver and Robert Zemekis. Their intention was to focus the production company on remaking the films of William Castle, and after two remakes, 1999’s House on Haunted Hill and 2001’s Thirteen Ghosts, they turned their attention to original material beginning with Ghost Ship. The script for the film was originally written as a Treasure of Sierra Madre crime thriller called ’Chimera’ where the crewmates would have double and triple crossed each other to get at the gold. It is rumored that this was the script that the actors signed on for, and they were quite let down to see the supernatural elements imposed on the story supposedly at the request of producer Joel Silver. I tried to track down some hard facts on this and came up empty. Considering Gabriel Byrne’s propensity to show up in horror films like The Keep and End of Days, it’s impossible to say what form the film was in when he agreed to star.

Byrne gives a standard solid performance as the gruff sea captain. I enjoyed every moment he was on screen, but it really wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen out of him before. The real eye opening performance came by way of Julianna Margulies. I only really knew from her years on ER as Nurse Hathaway, but while Byrne’s star power might have gotten him top billing, the film really belongs to Margulies. Her character, Epps, is the first to encounter the supernatural in the form of a young girl named Katie, played by Emily Browning who more recently starred in The Uninvited, and Epps is the one that finally puts all the pieces of the puzzle together. Margulies gives a great strong performance as the horror’s heroine, and it’s a real shame that she’s never tackled any similar material. There are also quite a few good supporting performances including Isaiah Washington as Greer, Desmond Harrington as the milquetoast Jack Ferriman, and the future Dr. McCoy, Karl Urban, as long haired welder Munder.

Director Steve Beck infuses the film with a wonderful atmosphere that really sells the supernatural vibe of the film, but it just doesn’t stack up to Thirteen Ghosts, a film that is much maligned but I really enjoy. It’s hard to put my finger on just what doesn’t make Ghost Ship work. The performances are solid, there are several good effects sequences including one massive death scene where dozens of folks get cut in half, and the story is genuinely creepy. Yet it is plagued with plot holes, pacing issues, and a resolution that could only be described as cheap. The film also suffers from a number of terrible metal songs shoehorned in for no reason whatsoever. There's one in the middle of the film that goes along with an unnecessary montage that made me almost jump ship entirely. By the end of the film, I wanted to be more happy with the results than I was, but the sum of the parts just didn’t quite add up. Steve Beck never directed another film after the failure of Ghost Ship which was trounced at the box office by the release of Jackass, and I wish he had made at least a couple more films. Even though his sophomore effort didn’t add up to his directorial debut, it still makes for an enjoyable watch that contains some very creepy moments.

I can’t say that I would recommend Ghost Ship. If you’re a big fan of ghost films like I am, then there are far better films you could be watching, but if the supernatural is your thing, you’ve probably seen most of them. Ghost Ship is an entertaining distraction that might not be the most satisfying film you’ve ever seen, but it will keep you engaged for the running time. Even if you don’t watch the whole film, I encourage anyone who can to check out the opening mass dissection scene. Ghost Ship as a whole might not make the cut, but the first five minutes has enough cutting in it to please the most hardened gore-phile.

Bugg Rating


  1. otis heterosexualMay 9, 2010 at 6:07 PM

    Lightning Bug, "Ghost Ship" should`ve received the 5 bug rating not "Triangle", "Ghost Ship" must be one of the most ludicrously under-rated horror films of all time. You know that bit towards the end of the film where Emily Browning says "come with me i`ve got something to show you" (or words to that effect) to julianna Margulies, well the 3 or 4 minutes that directly follows that statement is more "super-cool" by itself than everything that Quentin Tarantino has ever made put together (just think about that for a moment), add to that what is in my opinion one of the greatest endings in the history of cinema (i actually stood up and applauded the way the film ended when i first saw it because i have rarely witnessed that level of unmittigated genius when watching a film and i think its on a par with the end of "Electra Glide In Blue" and "Evil Dead 2", no kiddin`) and the fact that the rest of the film (although slightly eratic as you said) is mostly superb and you have a film that has quite simply not received the praise that it should have had over the last 8 years. By the way, i thought it was easily as good as "13 Ghosts" which was also ludicrously under-rated on its initial release just like the 2005 remake of "House Of Wax" another incredibly under-rated and truly great horror movie.

  2. Ghost Ship just didn't do anything for me either. In fact it was one of the movies that triggered my disillusionment with modern horror.

  3. No, sir, I didn't like it. Although I am very interested in Triangle.

  4. Otis can't be serious...can he? Ghost Ship has an awesome beginning, and then it is a freight train to crapville after that.

    (well okay, the boobies were a slight up, then right back to crapville)

  5. otis heterosexualMay 10, 2010 at 8:17 AM

    I`m sorry to disagree again but i really do genuinely believe "Ghost Ship" to be one of the best horror films of all time.

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  7. Im with Kangas, once the cocktease was over in the opening scene, it was game over


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