While showcasing some stunning production design, Gary Shore’s Haunting of the Queen Mary ultimately gets itself too jumbled for any proper jump-scares.
A good ghost story hooks you in right from the off, and Gary Shore’s Haunting of the Queen Mary is, on paper, certainly an intriguing one. With a myriad of spooky stories from ship’s varied history to draw inspiration from, the film is certainly not lacking in ideas or ambition. It’s atmospheric and visually splendid, with impressive camera work and production design, but ultimately falters as a ghost story with an overly jumbled narrative and some stilted scares.
In 1938, as the Queen Mary sails across the Atlantic towards New York, David (Wil Coban) goes on a murderous rampage, killing his wife Gwen (Nell Hudson), their daughter Jackie (Florrie Wilkinson), and the occupants of the neighbouring cabin with an axe. In the present day, Anne (Alice Eve) and Patrick (Joel Fry) are aboard the ship – now a tourist attraction – with their son Lukas (Lenny Rush), in the hopes of creating a new type of interactive experience for visitors. But as they explore the depths of the decks below, they unleash something that brings the ship’s dark past to the surface, and soon the two families are inexplicably linked with terrifying consequences.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about Haunting of the Queen Mary is its missed potential. There’s enough meat to here to craft a really effective horror film, be it a haunted house – or, more accurately, a haunted ship – ghost story or even a supernatural slasher. Shore’s film is full of fabulous production design and sweeping, claustrophobic camera work that makes certain sections feel really atmospheric and eerie. Director of photography Isaac Bauman’s camera glides through the labyrinthine corridors of the Queen Mary, giving it that cloying, caged-in feeling that works so well in single location horror films. And as the bodies pile up and things get seriously gory, everything is bathed in garish red light, and the visuals start to blur in and out of focus as if to discombobulate the viewer.
However, the problem here is that the script is already so jumbled and convoluted, any further discombobulation just results in said viewer getting totally lost. By consistently switching timelines just as things start to get tense, Shore’s film loses its momentum, stumbling through scenes that don’t make much sense and are only able to be (somewhat) pieced together in retrospect. It never feels like the film has a coherent flow, instead feeling like a mishmash of two stories that start out as promising, but end up ultimately underdeveloped.
Had Haunting of the Queen Mary remained a period piece, perhaps with a modern sequel or end-credits sting, it could have been a much more engaging story. Or, if the film hadn’t tried to shoehorn in as much suitably creepy backstory as possible, the dual timeline structure could have felt more connected and less laboured. Instead, it all just feels like a wasted opportunity, stilted and flat and like there’s chunks missing – possibly a product of a brutally choppy editing process.
The performances are a mixed bag of both flat and over-committed, as is the film’s general tone. It highlights that feeling of it being a bit of a botch job, slapped together in a rush to deliver a finished film that just feels odd. There are sequences that include a tap dance from Fred Astaire and a history lesson about the Clydebank shipbuilding industry, nestled in amongst the gore and the scares and seemingly given as much attention. Things really start to drag around the halfway mark, right as the stakes get higher for Anne and Patrick, so much so that we start to lose interest and thus the impact of the film’s final shocks is, unfortunately, somewhat lacking.
“Although we’re famous for our fiction, sometimes facts can be much stranger,” says a character about the Queen Mary. She’s a ship with a sordid history, rife for the picking for any number of spooky stories and an interesting character in her own right. But while Shore’s film does a good job of showcasing her splendour, it ultimately only looks incredibly impressive, failing to impress with its narrative nor its structure. It’s a case of style over substance and scares for Haunting of the Queen Mary, and that’s a real shame.
Vertigo Releasing presents Haunting of the Queen Mary on digital platforms in the UK on 9 October 2023. The film is now available to watch on digital and on demand in the US.