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Haunting of the Queen Mary (2023) Review

Horrors on the high sea are a common enough theme, from Ghost Ship and Deathship to The Haunting of the Mary Celeste and Titanic 666 there are plenty of them. The most recent of these, Haunting of the Queen Mary opens on Halloween Eve,1938 when the ship’s festivities are replaced with terror as an axe weilding man hacks his way through its corridors.

The plot then circles back a few hours to show Gwen (Nell Hudson, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Outlander) and David Ratch (Wil Coban, Waiting for the Barbarians, Zack Snyder’s Justice League) sneaking into an exclusive party in an attempt to get their daughter Jackie (Florrie Wilkinson, Jungle Beat: The Movie, The Dumping Ground) introduced to some Hollywood stars who they hope can help her become the next Shirley Temple.

In the present day, Anne (Alice Eve, The Infernal Machine, Star Trek Into Darkness) and Patrick Calder (Joel Fry, In the Earth, Our Flag Means Death) along with their son Lukas (Lenny Rush, Dodger, Am I Being Unreasonable?) visit the ship with the idea of writing a book and possibly conducting virtual versions of the ship’s ghost tours. While she’s in a meeting to pitch the idea, father and son take the actual tour and Lukas gets to meet the ghosts up close and personal.

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Director Gary Shore (Dracula Untold, Holidays) and his co-writer Tom Vaughan (Winchester, Unstoppable) drew from the many ghosts alleged to haunt The Queen Mary such as The Woman in White (Sophia Dunn-Walker, The Crows, After America) for some of the script and shot onboard the ship itself. This gives it a sense of authenticity and adds immeasurably to the film’s production values.

As a result, Haunting of the Queen Mary is a visually striking movie, especially in the scenes set in 1938 when the ship was at the height of its fame and elegance. Scenes featuring the likes of Fred Astaire (Wesley Alfvin, Blades of Glory, Two Hearts for Love) and Ginger Rogers (Maddison Nixon) are stunning. The modern-day story uses the ship’s cavernous and imposing engine room and other working areas to build an atmosphere of dread. Credit goes to cinematographer Isaac Bauman (Bloodline, Florida Man) for pulling off the two opposing looks so well.

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Unfortunately, the script does a poor job of integrating the two stories as it bounces back and forth during Haunting of the Queen Mary’s unnecessarily long, approximately two hours, running time. Between the two families, passengers and crew there is a large cast of characters, very few of whom are given much development. When they are it tends to make them unsympathetic and not the kind of people you want to spend much time with.

It‘s also hard at times to figure out just what is going on. At several points in the film, characters talking through masks are hard to understand, as are characters talking in places such as the engine room. And, as the plot cuts between stories and events within the same story, sometimes weaving back and forth in their timelines, it’s easy to lose track of what you’re actually seeing.

Within all of this, there are several impressively staged scares, some surprising deaths and shocking murders. While some do happen off-screen Shore isn’t afraid to show an axe smashing a skull open or repeatedly striking a victim and painting a cabin’s walls red in the process.

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The bloody effects by Keith Harding (The Intergalactic Adventures of Max Cloud, Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey) and Jimm Stark (Hound, Standing Alone) are excellent. Other digital work however is a mixed bag with an arm emerging from a cell phone looking impressive but the establishing shot of the ship at sea much less so. Overall though the effects are considerably better than I expected.

With judicious editing and pruning of the script, Haunting of the Queen Mary could have been one of the summer’s better genre films. As it is, it’s technical chops outshine its muddled script, which wastes some good ideas and leaves a generally capable cast with little to work with. In the end, it becomes yet another film that’s watchable but should have been much better. That’s only amplified by the use of what sounds like Rod Serling’s narration for the ghost tour which made me think of how much better he would have done it as an episode of The Twilight Zone.

Vertical Entertainment released Haunting of the Queen Mary in theatres on August 18th and it’s now available on Digital and VOD Platforms. It will be available in the UK on August 28th via Vertigo Releasing.

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4 thoughts on “Haunting of the Queen Mary (2023) Review”

  1. I think this review is spot on. Actors did a good job, but their appearances in multiple, disjointed and out of sequence scenes left this viewer completely lost. I have no idea what the editors were thinking. The period costumes were very good and the sets were excellent, given that the film was shot on the Queen Mary, which is a ready-made historical treasure. While the gore created was expansive and unrelenting, the complete lack of story continuity left this viewer feeling that the writers could care less if the audience could follow the plot or not. And what happened to the main couple’s son? The physically disabled young man was a prominent character in the first third of the movie then disappears with no explanation. On a scale of 1 to 10, I give this movie a 4.

    1. They do explain what happened to Lukas near the end, but it’s just tossed out among some other dialogue and easy to miss. It’s a major plot point and should have been made a lot clearer.

  2. This movie is absolutely terrible with no redeeming qualities. It’s really too bad that both movies based on California attractions (Winchester) were so poorly executed, given the state’s entertainment industry. Production companies that chase filming tax credits generally do not make good films.
    With that being said, I was glad that some of this movie was actually filmed onboard the Queen Mary. However, while many films strive for meticulous historical accuracy, this film was definitely not one of them. So, while other reviewers have detailed at length this film’s many shortcomings, I will concentrate on this aspect as it has received less attention. In scenes set in the 1930s, the ship was shown with wall-to-wall carpet which was all added in Long Beach, ashtrays which were removed and covered during conversion were left that way, and in one scene I spotted a current exit sign. Even the modern tour desk with its roll-down shutter was left in a scene on the Promenade Deck.
    Furthermore, the sets that were built off the Queen Mary didn’t even attempt to match the actual ship, so wood tones and styling would suddenly shift. One of the cabins shown was styled like the 1960s instead of the 1930s. It was as if the set designers outside of California hadn’t bothered to look at what had been filmed on the ship or to Google photos of the interior. Furthermore, the dialogue from the 1930s was not authentic, with many wording choices that would not have been used during that period. To make matters worse, the actors portraying crew members used inconsistent or not easily identifiable accents, even though the ship would have largely had a British crew.
    For the modern times in the script, it was an odd plot device to say that the swimming pool was removed (and later revealed to be hidden), as anyone who has taken a tour of the ship has actually seen it. It is also directly next to the dining room, not below it. It would have been better to have written these scenes for the second-class swimming pool, which was in fact removed during conversion and thus more mysterious.
    These points may seem like nitpicking, but if you’re going to set a movie in a place that physically exists and millions of people have actually been to, you should strive for some accuracy. It shows that you care about the subject and prevents the audience from being taken out of the moment. But after watching Haunting of the Queen Mary, I realized two things about the filmmakers: they didn’t care about the Queen Mary and they didn’t care about the audience.
    For a movie about a ship, this film was a complete trainwreck.

  3. After just watching this movie and coming here for comment, I have to say I agree with the opinion that it was disjointed, even if it was visually striking (pun intended).

    That being said, I think during the course of watching it that I realized why I couldn’t find myself caring about it… and that is exactly why I now DO care about it. I’m personally not going to get into the historical accuracy and lack thereof here, but I will go into the cinematography because I’m pretty sure the director was struggling with telling Horror apart from Psychological Thriller.

    In a psychological thriller, you are- as the audience- a detective. You are being fed information hidden within fractured psyche, illusion, warped perceptions, biases, and so on. You aren’t fed complete stories all at once because a psychological thriller is meant to take you away from the story and logically engage you to figure it out before the end, only to give you a twist ending that leaves you feeling just as shaken and disjointed as the characters. It’s a jarring and, as the name suggests, psychological experience. In such movies, you will also see a lot of wide shots with people in the center of the shot at a distance. You will be able to see every magnificent detail. Every spot of rust and bolt. Every corner and closet and shadow and figure at the end of the hallway. It is supposed to feel large and at a distance so you feel disconnected and confused and uncertain if what you’re seeing is real or not. With transitions you’ll be taken away from the scene and fluidly moved to the next either by following a character’s perspective movements toward the next point of action, or by doing a set cutaway like the building (or boat in this sense) has been bisected like a map-accurate model.

    This was exactly how Haunting of the Queen Mary was shot… and it does not work for horror because horror is supposed to appeal to your emotional side and make logic take a backseat. Psychological thrillers want to do the opposite, appeal to logic and make emotion take a backseat.

    If they wanted to do a horror movie, they should have shown the backstory first without any context. It would have been brutal, you would have gotten to love Jackie, and you would have been devastated by her loss rather than wondering what her purpose even was and why they felt it necessary to add her at all. Then, as you switch to the modern family, that beginning brutality will slip to the back of your mind and you can emotionally engage with the plights of this family instead of saying to yourself “oh yeah, they’re still repairing their marriage for some reason. Why was that again?” Also, lose the wide shots. Leave showing the vast emptiness of the ship for transition shots dragged slowly from just above mouse-eye view. Let the tension and the suspense build instead of interrupting it constantly with backstory. Let the looming sense of loneliness, seclusion, and being trapped carry through the scenes instead of separating your viewer from the prison. Obscure and close in the audience .

    But anyway, ramble over. It wasn’t a horrible film, but definitely has no replay-ability or true effort and research put into it in the first place, so I definitely wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

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