HAUNTING OF THE QUEEN MARY *** USA / UK 2023 Dir: Gary Shore. 125 mins
The ocean has given us such fun horror as personal favourite Death Ship (1980), Ghost Ship (2002), the witty if not silly Sharknado series, Deep Blue Sea (1999), Blood Vessel (2019) and countless others. Joining the folk who travel the briny deep you have Haunting Of The Queen Mary (2023) which comes across as a combination of elements in the television series American Horror Story: Hotel and the BioShock game franchise.
The film has a slightly confusing plot that unfolds across two timelines with some moments of brutal violence and ghostly apparitions of trapped spirits aboard the Queen Mary which is docked in Long Beach, California. Haunting Of The Queen Mary (2023) appears to be photographed on the actual vessel taking advantage of some wonderful corridors and décor. The similarity to the hotel segments of American Horror Story is the use of the existing rooms, with rich wood, sculptures, and marble dance floor which gets used for musical entertainment and metal carvings in the 1938 section.
The first section is about a family of grifters – war-injured veteran David Ratch (Wil Coban), his fortune-teller wife Gwen (Nell Hudson) and their daughter Jackie (Florrie Wilkinson) who try to work the scam of being first-class passengers. David Ratch wears a flesh mask to cover the injury on his face, the mask covering half his face and he speaks through a small tube giving him a raspy ‘Dr. Phibes’ sound.
They are discovered despite Jackie’s pleas to persuade a table of Hollywood folks that includes Fred Astaire (Wesley Alfvin) to let her be the next big thing. Jackie returns in tears causing David Ratch to make an appearance at the table demanding the people apologise and give his daughter a chance. When this doesn’t happen, David Ratch is ridiculed and is dared to take his covering off by the Hollywood people which in fact he does to the horror of the audience. He also must be reminded to put his mask back on after they have left the ballroom. Jackie gets her moment to dance with Fred Astaire in an actual brilliant dance sequence. Yes, a dance sequence. While the band is swinging, David is possessed by an evil spirit who quite graphically axe murders a series of people with blood and gore not spared in all its detail.
In the contemporary section, writer Anne (Alice Eve), her eight-year-old son Lukas (Lenny Rush) and Anne’s on-off boyfriend Patrick (Joel Fry) come aboard the Queen Mary so that Anne can pitch to boss Bittner (Dorian Lough) a new way to make the ship accessible to the modern families as a Ghost tour stop. Lukas runs afoul of the supernatural and becomes one of the doomed trapped spirits. The ghosts aboard the ship just want to get released to that end Anne is subjected to an attack by her mobile phone and Patrick runs into a malevolent sweet vending machine. In perhaps the best sequence you have a plaintive young woman in a corridor playing piano. When approached by Eve and Patrick she speaks soothingly then uncontrollably smashes her face to a pulp on the piano keyboard shrieking she just wants to not be on the ship.
The portrayal of the Queen Mary’s enigmatic and spectral legends is achieved with a remarkable authenticity. From the faintest whispers in the corridors to the visually striking appearances of its long-past residents, every detail has been given the utmost attention. The visuals, both haunting and opulent, play a pivotal role in immersing the audience into a world where the boundaries between the past and present blur.
Haunting Of The Queen Mary (2023) uses its visuals well especially during the dance sequences. The story shifts get accomplished by long tracking shots, through crowds of people rushing about the deck that swoop of an overhead vantage point bringing the audience to another era.
The cast does their best with the narrative that gets lost when you shift to moments and small stories like with the past Captain of the ship and engine troubles. Notable cast people, all the leads as well as Wesley Alfvin for his sheer energy and almost Bob Fosse-like footwork and hands as Fred Astaire plus the singer in the ballroom played by Tiffany Ashton who gave it her all in brief screen time but did it well. Jump scares are not present in many spots however there is a creeping fear that gets lost in the convoluted stories and transitions with plenty of gore.
Reminds one of an epic horror or supernatural novels that one can put down and re-read certain sections to get a grip. The picture also that seems rushed at the end was the end credits where they unfolded in two streams at the same time. However, a film is not a book, and Haunting Of The Queen Mary (2023) is different and material enough for two films that could have been top-drawer in a steampunk/Bioshock look with impeccable attention to photography, wardrobe music and production values.
Review by Terry Sherwood