The Queen Mary is one of the most famous cruise liners in the world, probably second only to the Titanic. Unlike that ship, the Queen Mary sailed the world for decades, took part in World War II, and eventually retired to become permanently docked in California, where it became a tourist attraction and hotel. What has helped to make the ship famous is the number of ghost stories that surround it, and it has subsequently become one of the most famous haunted locations in the world. It feels fitting then that the ship would become the setting for a horror film.
Haunting of the Queen Mary is a ghost story that sets out to confuse the audience from the very beginning. Starting in the 1930s we see a brutal killing has taken place on the ship whilst passengers are heading towards the lifeboats, the ship apparently in danger. Below decks, a young girl named Jackie (Florrie Wilkinson) frees her blood-covered father from imprisonment, despite him not seeming to know who she is, and calling her by another name. We then hard cut to the present, where historical author Anne (Alice Eve) and her young son Lukas (Lenny Rush) are arriving at the Queen Mary for an important meeting.
Anne is hoping to pitch both a new book about the ship, told from a child’s point of view, and a virtual reality tour to the ship’s captain and custodian, Bittner (Dorian Lough). Whilst she’s in the meeting, Lukas and her estranged partner Patrick (Joel Fry) go on the ship’s ghost tour. However, even before the tour has left Lukas is experiencing strange things, seeing the ghostly apparition of Jackie. Whilst on the tour, Lukas wanders away from the group, and ends up in a part of the ship he shouldn’t be in, a part of the ship where the ghosts of the Queen Mary’s past have plans for him.
One of the things that makes the plot of Haunting of the Queen Mary harder to follow is that the film jumps between two separate narratives, as we go back to 1930, where we see the events surrounding the beginning of the film. These scenes, and those in the present, don’t bear much connection to each other. In some films you find flashbacks having a loose thematic connection to the events in the present, with multiple stories mirroring each other in some way. That isn’t the case here, and instead they feel like mostly unconnected stories.
Another factor that goes against the film’s favour is that it’s overly long, very slow, and feels bloated. The film clocks in at a run time of just over two hours in length, and it really could have been a tight 90 minutes and still managed to tell the same story. Part of this is down to long, slow moving camera shots that show the audience every corner of the rooms that the characters enter, and sequences where we move down the ship’s long corridors, heading around corners, finding more hallways as the camera tilts and sways. Many of these shots feel unnecessary, and there were multiple times when interesting scenes were made frustrating because instead of keeping things moving the film had to keep slowing down to do these kinds of shots.
The story in the past also needs trimming down. The film spends several scenes getting to know Jackie’s family, and a lot of it has no effect on the film. Scenes of them sneaking into the First Class dining room and getting thrown out don’t actually add to the narrative. There’s an entire sequence where the film essentially stops to put on a full dance number as Jackie does a dance with Fred Astaire (Wesley Alfvin), as Ginger Rodgers (Maddison Nixon) and a movie producer watch on. It’s only the latter part of this family’s story that has any bearing on the events of the film, and at least half of these flashbacks could have been cut or heavily trimmed down in order to help the pacing.
As it is, it feels like the editor or director was given free reign to include every second of footage in the film, and was unable or unwilling to cut anything. Good editing is an important parts of turning a vision into a viable product, and here it seems like that was forgotten. That’s not to say the film is completely boring, there are elements of a decent story here, but by the time you’ve gotten to that the film already feels like it has outstayed its welcome. I watched the film with a group of people who are horror fans, and none of us found we actually cared by the time the film got into its slightly better final act.
It’s a shame, as the cast do a decent enough job with the material that they’re given, with Alice Eve especially doing her best to deliver a performance of a mother desperately trying to find her child, wracked with grief. Sadly, the script and direction seem to let the cast down, and some strong performances end up being overshadowed by the film’s many issues.
With the Queen Mary being one of the most famous haunted locations in the world, and this film being able to actually shoot on the historic ship, I was excited to see it brought to life and to tell a chilling story. Sadly, the result is one of the least frightening horror films that I’ve seen in a long while; a bloated movie that tries to do too much and loses its way long before the credits finally roll. One of the key themes of the film is the ship not allowing people to leave, for escape to be impossible, and unfortunately that ended up bleeding into reality, as it felt like I couldn’t escape it either.
Haunting of the Queen Mary is out on digital platforms on 9th October.