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Ghost Ship (2002)

In 1962, the cruise liner Antonia Graza was lost at sea, with all its passengers and crew presumed perished. Twenty years later, it has returned, just as mysteriously. And something is still aboard…

Ghost Ship is a horror film directed by Steve Beck and produced by Dark Castle Entertainment, responsible for the recent remakes of Thirteen Ghosts, The House on Haunted Hill, and House of Wax. It stars Julianna Marguiles, Gabriel Byrne, Ron Eldard, Karl Urban, Desmond Harrington, Isiah Washington, and Desmond Washington, plus a bunch of very angry ghosts.

Everyone has heard of the Antonia Graza – she’s like the Holy Grail of ship salvages. So when the crew of the Arctic Warrior is approached about a salvage in the Bering Sea and it turns out to be the vanished cruise liner, everyone is excited about not only the reward for salvaging it but also the bragging rights. However, when they board the ship to prepare to tow it to shore, strange things start happening that suggest that not everything is at rest aboard the derilict. Maureen Epps (Marguiles) sees the spectre of a little girl wandering the decks. Greer (Washington) hears the voice of an unseen songstress crooning a ghostly melody. Epps and their employer, Ferriman (Harrington), find the corpses of previous salvage crews… and a quantity of gold bars in the hold, with the identifying markings filed down. Estimating that the gold by itself is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, they decide to take the gold and leave the ship, but the Arctic Warrior explodes as it is started up, killing a crewman and leaving the rest of them stranded on the Antonia Graza. With no other choice, the salvage crew try to repair the ship, but as more of them are killed by the ghostly forces on the ship, Epps is about to learn some terrifying things about the ship’s history and their helpful employer…

I basically picked up Ghost Ship on a whim. I enjoy ghost stories, almost as much as I enjoy finding hidden treasures (as I had with Pitch Black). I’d previously seen how Gabriel Byrne did supernatural horror in End of Days, and Julianna Marguiles had proven her acting chops in her stint in ER. The rest were unknowns at the time, and I thought they did well. This spooky little horror tale did a lot with a little, offering glimpses and hints rather than beating the viewer over the head with OMG GHOSTS, and on the whole the spooks are not obvious or in your face about it. The sequence where Greer witnesses the ruined ballroon reconstituting itself around him was impressive, as well as the fact that most of the special effects had been done practically, favoring models and prosthetics over CGI.

In addition, while the setup appeared to be a standard haunting, the writers took it and made it their own, offering an explanation for why the ghosts are trapped there instead of saying “just because”, while also giving the otherwise marooned salvagers (well, one of them) a possible solution. The story was engaging as it unfolded, with the ghostly Katie guiding Epps to the answers she would need to survive the darker forces at work on the wreck, and the explanation for why that ghost alone, out of the hundreds bound to the vessel, was able to help was satisfying and made sense within the context of the story. While the rest of Dark Castle’s movies have been largely hit or miss (mainly miss), this one was enjoyable and spooky.

If you like ghost stories and you’re looking for a movie that’s slightly off the beaten path, try Ghost Ship. It’s not flashy, just a beautiful, atmospheric tale of a tragic haunting, and the outsiders who find themselves drawn into the darkness of a decades-old tragedy.

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