Oh, The Boat. I went into this film really wanting to love it. It had all of the elements of a film right up my alley – single character, single setting, the tease of something paranormal. Sold. So sold my popcorn is already eaten. And while Winston Azzopardi’s The Boat does indeed tick those boxes, thought the subtlety by which is does may be a frustrating experience for some. But – I haven’t even gotten to the best part. The Boat knows just how frustrating it is.
Out on the water, A lone fisherman comes upon a thick, unruly fog. Because he’s lone – and will remain ‘lone’ for the rest of the film, he doesn’t get a name. We’re going to use Fisherman (Joe Azzopardi, who’s also co-writer). While trying to navigate his tiny motorboat through the endless sea of fog, Fisherman discovers an idling sailboat. The sails down, and not a human in sight, Fisherman ties off his boat and boards the sailboat. He calls out to see if anyone on-board needs assistance, and checks the galley (or whatever the official term for “inside the boat” is) – but there is no one there. No one at all. There are signs of people – blankets on the bed, the kitchen is stocked, items in the bathroom cabinet. But there is absolutely no other soul on board. Fisherman tries the radio, hoping he can reach someone. Dead air. Lost as what to do, and with no clues to what has taken place on The Boat, things really take a turn when he discovered his motorboat has become un-tethered. (Despite him tying a super sailor-worthy knot that I’m not going to even pretend to know the name of). He becomes stranded on the abandoned boat. One that has developed a mind of its own. But is he really alone?
The Boat has plenty of tricks up its sleeve over the course of the film. Failing navigational tools, tricky doors and locks, and the ability to cut through dense cables. Fisherman will need to persevere.. or simply escape – if he’s going to survive this ghost story.
..Unless it isn’t even a ghost at all. There are sounds of feet stomping on the deck, and trickery just out of sight. Is someone hiding? Keeping Fisherman trapped?
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Eventually, the thick fog gives way to an ocean Fisherman knows well. He’s finally on a fair playing ground, able to navigate calm, sunny skies, and serene waters. But what’s familiar will still be foreign, because though he has solid ground beneath him – we do not trust it. How will he ever pilot a boat that is better at piloting him?
The Boat isn’t for everyone. It doesn’t have any huge reveals, or ghastly spectral encounters. It’s Christine without George Thorogood, The Shining if the only thing haunting Jack Torrance was the endless snow. And though the regular horror-consumer will expect more – this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just takes some adjusting.
Time for a personal story. When I was a kid, every summer my family would pile into our car and drive two hours to the family cottage out on Lake Erie (one of the Great Lakes for any of you not on the North American East Coast. Means it’s Big). Because it was pretty much in the middle of nowhere, we ended up having a lot of campfires on the beach. You know what you do, sitting on a dark, isolated beach next to open water lapping against the shore? You tell ghost stories. Legends. That period I learned many a tall tale about all of the ghost ships, shipwrecks and mysterious happenings on Lake Erie. Most of them were nonsense, but some of them are actual accounts – we could see one of the ‘shipwrecks’ from our spot on the beach (pretty much just an old boat stuck in the rocks). The Boat is one of these stories. A legend, a fable. Vague and ever-changing – depending on what campfire, what version.
As for the cinematography – it’s great.. when we aren’t stuck in an airplane-sized bathroom. Which, is unfortunately, most of the movie. When we’re lucky enough, and Fisherman is free to walk on the top deck – The Boat is beautiful. The ocean back-drop offers serene and haunting elements, a threateningly calm horizon. It also delivers surprise; the dense, white fog – and the perils of a sudden storm churning the ocean like a Magic Bullet.
” [The Boat is] a survival story. A ghost story. A legend. A glimpse at a story told at a thousand ports. A thousand small, seaside towns.”
You will either love or hate The Boat. Unless you’re me, where you swim in an endless grey area, refusing to take a stance. In the end of the day, yes – I wanted The Boat to stop at every haunted harbor; flickering lights, ghastly reflections in the mirror. I wanted The Haunted Mansion on water. But The Boat set it sights on a quieter tale, a less rocky shore. It’s a survival story. A ghost story. A legend. A glimpse at a story told at a thousand ports. A thousand small, seaside towns. Beware The Boat that sails itself.
The Boat held its world premiere at Fantastic Fest. Check out all of Nightmare on Film Street’s Fantastic Fest coverage here!