If Appellate Judge Tom Becker were waxing poetic, he might say, "Haunted Boat/Doesn't Float."
I think, therefore I y'am.
When Kevin gets a boat for his birthday, he invites the gang for a two-day cruise. These randy teens smoke, swig, sun, and sex themselves silly before getting serious and talking about important things like how the previous owner died, and what each of them fears the most (drowning, bugs, being killed by a stranger, being killed by a friend, the afterlife, and dying alone). Later, the one who feared drowning takes a one-way dive into the big blue.
Then, the boat gets lost in a thick fog, and the teens think someone else is aboard. Slowly, the revelers come to realize what we've known since the opening credits: This is a Haunted Boat! Or is it?
A big problem with Haunted Boat is that director/writer (etc., on this indie) Olga Levens doesn't seem to know. It seems like she was making this up as she went along.
First we have a party movie, complete with overage "teens," strip "spin the bottle," and power-pop music montages. Then our post-teen titans have a "heavy" existentialist discussion while smoking a joint. These discussions are rarely interesting for non-stoned observers, and this is no exception. Here we get the "How would you hate to die?" talk, and a mere 14(!) minutes later—that's 14 movie minutes—the sum of all fears adds up to death for one of our sailors.
It is at this point, 30 minutes in, that the film both picks up and derails at the same time. Starting with a smiling CGI shark that I thought was supposed to be a joke until a character screamed, "Shark! Get out of the water!," we are treated to:
A death-like figure who skulks around the boat for no apparent reason;
Skulls randomly superimposed over things like a Where's Waldo? game;
Characters telling ghost stories (re-enacted, for 20 minutes!) that have nothing to do with the "ghost story" we're watching;
An epileptic fit;
A character who shows up in a rowboat for no other reason than to do a post-modern comedy spot and then leave;
A character vomiting worms;
A possible electrocution;
A girl fight;
And about 15 different endings, none especially satisfying.
All this drags on for an interminable 97 minutes. Levens throws out ideas and then forgets about them. We never understand how or why the boat is haunted, only that someone died there; the whole "great fears" business goes nowhere; the ghost stories don't add up to anything; a character who is foreshadowed as a killer comes up empty.
There's a vague sense that this is all supposed to have some kind of profound, existentialist subtext, but the execution is too dull and clumsy to sustain such sophisticated ambitions. After a while, the "plot" (for lack of a better word) is so confused that it's just not worth following, and if you do hang in there, you get the kind of enigmatic conclusion that screams, "I'm out of ideas, let's end this!"
The real shame is that buried under all this are the makings of an interesting short film. Levens could have scratched her existentialist itch in half the time and given us a creepy little mood piece. Instead, she larders her thin story with so much extraneous nonsense that it becomes incomprehensible. Add to this terrible acting, uneven camerawork (some of this looks great for the budget, while some looks like kids playing with camcorders), and a wretched score. A little trivia: Alan Roberts, who edited this film, also directed The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood. That's the closest thing to a pedigree that Haunted Boat offers.
On a technical level, Lionsgate has given us a very good looking picture, considering how low budget the original elements were. The Dolby 5.1 Surround option is great. There is a lot of ambient sound (the wind, the water), and it comes through subtly yet distinctly. The only extras are trailers for other Lionsgate offerings that also involve water (including one about the homicidal spirit of a killer nun who only appears when there's water).
Haunted Boat ends up being another let's-get-together-and-make-a-movie indie that Lionsgate seems to specialize in throwing out on DVD.
Guilty. And wet.
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