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.
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.
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.
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.