Thoughts on “Haunting of the Mary Celeste”

“Haunting of the Mary Celeste” is what you get if you take “Amityville Toybox” and give it good production values and care at all about the plot.  It’s a short movie, but the production values and acting are in general really good.  The plot is actually where it fails, and even that is likely only because the movie, again is too short for what it wants to do.

The reason is that the plot is actually confusing.  In general, it explores the mystery of the Mary Celeste, which was found abandoned with no sign of its crew, but otherwise mostly intact.  We start with a female professor determined to solve the mystery who thinks that it involved a dimensional portal that it sailed through.  She calculates that a certain day of the year will be when that portal is active, and takes her assistant and a new research student to hire a ship to go explore that area.  When her original boat hire falls through, she ends up hiring another captain with a small ship — a two-man crew — to go out there.  Meanwhile, we have seen that she herself dreams of reaching towards a little girl under water, like one who was lost on the Mary Celeste.  When they reach it, the engine stops, and soon people start falling into a sort of coma and in their dreams seem to get sucked into a similar watery situation as in the professor’s dreams.  Ultimately, it is revealed that she lost her daughter in Japan and this is calling to her because of that for … some reason.  Eventually, they all disappear except for the student, who was sent out in a lifeboat to find someone and eventually was recovered … and returns to an empty ship.

The problem is that while she has an explanation for the mystery, we don’t really know if she’s right or wrong or what actually happened.  And while she has a strong personal motivation to solve the mystery, we don’t really know what that motivation is.  Did her daughter just drown?  Then this being a dimensional portal doesn’t seem like it would reunite them.  Does she just drown?  Then they’d be reunited in death, but the rest of the movie would be pointless.  Was her daughter lost to a dimensional portal in Japan and are they reunited when she goes through this one?  While that would be an explanation, it’s also a Downer Ending because she takes a lot of other people with her, lying to them to do so … and we never see what that other dimension is like, so it might actually be a Hell Dimension or, worse, one made entirely of shrimp, which would not be a good dimension to end up in.

And the inconsistencies around what the movie wants us to believe about what is happening make this even more confusing.  Throughout the movie, she is insistent that the portal will only be open on that day, and it seems like if it is open the engines will stop working.  However, the one crew member opening one door on the ship seems to trigger the effects, and at the end she goes through that door to join her daughter (I think).  So when the rescue ship arrives, they explore for a bit, and then go to open that door … and the movie stops, implying that they might be triggering the threat on themselves.  Except that this was past the time when she said it would be open, and they weren’t experiencing anything else, so it’s unlikely that that would be a threat, and while it’s possible that they were hinting that her dead body was there that wouldn’t fit with the theme of the movie and wouldn’t explain everyone else’s disappearance.  So, again, it’s a shock ending for the sake of a shock ending that actually makes no sense and only makes things more confusing.

However, the production values of this movie save it.  The acting is really good, by pretty much everyone (the student has moments of being annoying, but she’s probably supposed to be that so it’s okay).  The cinematography is done well.  The ship looks good.  The movie moves quickly enough while not seeming rushed, which is important for a movie this short.  And the length works out because we don’t get bored of it before the end despite it being confusing and there not being all that much happening in the movie.

Ultimately, the movie is saved by its production values.  They distracted me enough during the movie so that the confusion didn’t make me want to stop watching it before the end.  It’s still not a good movie, but it’s one that I might watch again at some point, just because it’s enjoyable enough to watch while watching it.


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