Coming to DVD Tuesday, Sept. 25th
John Rhys-Davies as The Greek
Kerry Fox as Suze
Sally Stockwell as Tate
Amber Sainsbury as Kathy
Tamer Hassan as Big Dave
Craig Hall as Chris Hamilton
Julian Arahanga as Zane
Lawrence Makoare as Snake
Directed by Chris Graham
If you’re familiar with Greek mythology, then you’ve undoubtedly heard of The Ferryman of Hades; the son of Erubus and Nyx who, for fee (a Greek silver coin known as an Obolus), would transport the dead from one shore of the Acheron River to the other. The dead who showed up with empty pockets, however, were forced to wander the shores of the Acheron for a hundred years, which is why the Greeks often buried their dead with coins. “For the Ferryman,” they used to say, when placing the coins on their eyes.
It’s this myth that serves as the basis for “The Ferryman,” the New Zealand maritime horror thriller from director Chris Graham (who’s most recent credit is the romantic comedy “Samoan Wedding”) and writers Nick (“Stickmen”) Ward and Mathew Metcalfe.
Mixing a little “Hellraiser” with a dash of “Dead Calm,” the film opens with an ambiguous struggle aboard a ship caught in a night time squall between a Greek sailor (John Rhys-Davies) and a presumed crew mate. The supernatural tones are established right away as The Greek (as Rhys-Davies is known throughout the film) inexplicably survives a knife in the neck, vanquishes his enemy then proceeds to chop him into tiny bits and hurl the parts, along with obscenities, toward a mysterious boat chasing them in the distance.
As The Greek’s boat disappears into the night, we’re then introduced to a group of vacationers who have chartered a private yacht to Fiji for a weekend of fun, sun and rum. Things start off well enough until they receive a faint S.O.S signal from a ship in distress. Should they respond or continue on their vacation? Wiser heads prevail and they respond to the call for help where they rescue The Greek from his stranded vessel. He proceeds to tell them of a vicious storm which claimed the lives of his crew, conveniently leaving out the part where he went Bobby Flay on his crewmate. It’s not too long before his faÃ§ade is discovered and all hell breaks loose. Turns out The Greek is on the run from The Ferryman and, using a mystic knife which allows him to hijack the body of whom he impales with it, has managed to elude death for thousands of years. But now it’s come time to pay The Ferryman with his life and The Greek will do anything prevent that from happening.
Director Chris Graham’s style is efficient and workmanlike throughout, but makes some rather odd and annoying choices along the way, such as flashing back to scenes we viewed only ten or fifteen minutes before, and (even more annoying, as well as head scratching) flashing forward to events we haven’t even seen yet.
And, as is all too often the case with this type of story, unless the characters are really compelling, a film which takes place in a confined space is difficult to pull off. And the characters here are anything but. There is a stab at character development, but it’s never fully realized and mostly takes the form of character flaws which are never exploited to their full use, with the exception of the shallow Suze (Kerry Fox) who provides a rather interesting “private” moment in the film’s third act.
Our final girl, Kathy (Amber Sainsbury who appears in this year’s “30 Days of Night”) is given little to do other than react to the horrific events around her and one couldn’t help but feel her back story, which has no real bearing on the plot, was nothing more than a vehicle by which to provide the film’s resolution. Writers Metcalfe and Ward perhaps embracing the Greek mythos a little too much, utilizing a deus ex machina to resolve their plot.
Given the amount of violence, there’s actually not much wet work in the film, but Roger Murray pulls off what little there is rather seamlessly. The Ferryman himself is a bit of a let down, however. While the make-up is solid, given the build-up, one would hope for something a little more iconic than a cloaked figure with a gooey face and long, boney fingers. The less is more route might have been the better option, ala John Carpenter’s “The Fog”; keeping The Ferryman in the shadows, leaving it to the viewer to fill in his mysterious visage.
Despite its flaws, “The Ferryman” isn’t a terrible movie and, once things get rolling, is actually kind of fun to watch. And given the recent glut of forgettable torture horror films which have spewed their way onto movie screens, it’s nice to see a movie that at least attempts to have depth rooted in mythos, rather than wanton gore.