Fantastic Fest Review: THE BOAT Feels A Little Lost At Sea

More like CABIN IN THE WAVES, amirite?

The Boat has a brilliant conceit for a horror film: What if you were alone in the ocean on a haunted boat?

That’s it.

It’s a narrative gimmick that solves the problem of many haunted location films in that a rational character would just leave that situation, since there’s nowhere to run when there’s nothing but miles of ocean in every direction. That’s the baseline for a potentially awesome high concept thriller, but The Boat never really gets past the most basic iteration of the idea, leaving a flat, plodding film that never escalates or finds purpose.

Credit where credit is due, co-writer Joe Azzopardi pulls off an admirable performance as the film’s sole unnamed character, directed by his co-writer and father Winston Azzopardi through scenarios that should feel familiar to anyone who has watched a survival-at-sea movie. But that’s the main problem: the film feels too familiar, even with the supernatural presence haunting the boat, causing lines to snap, doors to lock shut, and steering to go haywire into storms. These setpieces are adequate, even if there is a tediously extended stretch of the film where the sailor – and consequentially the audience – is trapped in a cramped lavatory, but there’s nothing to differentiate the haunting from any other nautical malfunction. You could reframe every haunted action as the result of bad luck and essentially get the same movie, which might be a commentary on how the sea feels malevolent despite its indifference, but the film never elevates into something more substantive.

There is never a sense of intensity, only a neutral view of an admittedly harrowing situation that is only naturally scary rather than supernaturally so. Why not lean into the emotion of the scenario? Why not make the ghost assert itself through more than off-screen implication? Why not allow for outlandish scenarios that could only happen if the boat had a mind of its own? Why not lean into the inherent silliness of the premise, injecting the film with a sense of dark comedy? You could do anything with this premise other than play it completely straight, and yet The Boat opts for the most boring option.

The Boat is a technically competent film that some will appreciate for being a solid 100 minutes of bare-budget cinema, and I don’t blame that mindset. The film is solid, but it feels resigned to the limitations of its premise rather than actively pushing against its boundaries. Is there anything inherently wrong with that? Not really. Does it make for a safer, more boring film as a result? Undoubtedly.