The Queen Mary ship located in Long Beach, California, is an old girl. With age comes history and with history, come stories. In the case of the Queen, she comes with tales of hauntings, many of which I heard whilst working on the ship. These stories have inspired many, with even the Queen taking these stories and infusing them into a haunted attraction both on and off the ship. It is these hauntings that prove the framework for Gary Shore’s THE HAUNTING OF THE QUEEN MARY. Like many haunted tales, the execution plunges this ship into murky waters.
Split between two time periods, THE HAUNTING OF THE QUEEN MARY focuses on two families whose fates are intertwined. The first family focuses on Anne (Alice Eve) and Patrick (Joel Fry), with their young, adopted son, Lukas (Lenny Rush). With their relationship crumbling, their project with the Queen Mary is the last-ditch attempt for them to salvage their relationship. What starts as an innocuous pitch turns into something more, and the ghosts’ focus on Lukas spells danger for all on board.
Simultaneously, we are also taken back to 1938 when the Queen was in her infancy. Shining and sparkly, this is different from the landlocked boat we know today. This time we focus on David Ratch (Wil Coban), Gwen Ratch (Nell Hudson), and Jackie Ratch (Florrie Wilkinson). Unfortunately, as hauntings go, their fate is sealed simply by being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Ghosts are opportunists on the Queen Mary ship, and what’s trapped within takes its opportunity in spades.
A tale of two stories
You can tell the team researched the Queen well. There are remnants of familiar haunted tales that give reference, but Shore and screenwriter Stephen Oliver make them their own. Most importantly, the inclusion of Jackie and her playful nature running around the ship make it in as does the Lady in White, though her moment is brief and more confusing than satisfying. The detail work when we’re launched into the late 30s is also noticed, and the recreation of the ballrooms and costumes is remarkable.
Running at roughly 2 hours, THE HAUNTING OF THE QUEEN MARY struggles to maintain its momentum. Interweaving the two stories lands the ship in choppy waters, with ideas introduced that leave more questions than answers. In particular, the ambiguity surrounding Captain Bittner (Dorian Lough) isn’t clearly articulated. Sometimes you don’t need to explain character motivations if the framework of the character is self-explanatory. With what was shown of Bittner, it left his part in the Queen muddled.
Tackling two storylines in two drastically different time periods is ambitious, but there is a cleaner story under all those layers. In the case of THE HAUNTING OF THE QUEEN MARY, additional weight needed to be thrown overboard to keep the story going at record-breaking speeds. Focusing on one storyline over the other might have created something less convoluted in the end.
THE HAUNTING OF THE QUEEN MARY is visually splendid
What helps immensely in hiding THE HAUNTING OF THE QUEEN MARY’s rough story edges is how beautifully captivating it is onscreen. This as well as the delightfully executed horror moments. Isaac Bauman’s usage of angles and framing goes a long way. Colin Campbell’s edits assist in keeping audiences on their toes when ghosts are just around the corner. Long dark hallways riddled with shadows, vibrant bloody reds, and shots that linger just a bit too long immerse us in the supernatural realm that occupies the Grey Ghost’s halls. And when things get violent? It’s like an axe to the face.
Shot on the Queen herself, it’s a particular delight seeing the ship dressed up to the nines when thrown back in time. Familiar visitors will delight in visiting each section, from the boiler room to the infamous haunted pool and beyond. Going from celebrated cruising vessel to a tourist attraction hemorrhaging funds to keep the decaying ship afloat, we see the obvious differences.
THE HAUNTING OF THE QUEEN MARY is a serviceable horror if you don’t think too hard about all the storytelling details. For atmosphere, vibes, and frights that will grab you by the throat, the film stays its course. However, it can’t always distract from the clear bloat that riddles its screenplay. Is it a choppy voyage of a viewing journey? Yes. But once the horrors kick into gear, there’s enough to entertain you on water or on dry land.
THE HAUNTING OF THE QUEEN MARY is playing in select theaters and is on VOD now.
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