There’s no such a thing as an un-haunted ship, or so it seems. Whether ghosts and malevolent spirits are as partial to a cruise as retirees or are just drawn to the water’s edge, there’s a collective embrace of the idea of a ghost ship – and RMS Queen Mary, built in Clydebank, and now resting in Long Beach, California is no different.

Looking to traverse time and connect two families whose lives become violently and catastrophically entangled with the ship’s history, Gary Shore’s Haunting of the Queen Mary sets sail for a supernatural voyage, but the weighty and lengthy journey culminates in a touch of seasickness and irritation with its bloated nature and incoherent script.

In a clearly intentional attempt at lampooning the practice of constant re-inventions to survive shifting audience tastes, Haunting of the Queen Mary’s contemporary narrative follows author Anne as they pitch a re-invention to the cruise liner’s new boss/owner/Scooby-Doo villain Bittner (Dorian Lough) as an interactive, somehow VR, embracement of the ships supernatural appeal. It’s a plot detail which is muddled and never really expanded upon other than an excuse to get Anne and their on-again-off-again boyfriend Patrick (Joel Fry) into staying a night on the ship. With an initial clever set-up and stab at the antics various companies will take to shift ticket sales, Alice Eve defaults into the de-facto protagonist role as Anne and makes a sterling job of it – bringing in a genuine sense of chemistry with Fry and deep-motherly concern for son Luka.

In the past, war veteran David Ratch (Wil Coban) and his fortune-teller wife Gwen, carried by an engaging and often wasted performance by Nell Hudson, attempt to hob-knob it among the elite of the famous cruise liner to push their daughter Jackie in front of the Hollywood big-wigs in a last-ditch attempt for some cash and glory. They’re rather obviously caught passing off as well-to-do guests and thrown out of the party – leaving Jackie behind to encounter none other than Fred Astaire in a bizarre meet-up which pushes this ghoulish horror into, wait for it, an old-studio style Hollywood music number. Wesley Alfvin’s Astaire performs a terrifically inventive and period-accurate routine with the young Jackie, played by a nimble and skilled Florrie Wilkinson. But while Florrie is setting themself up for life, David and Gwen encounter something malicious lurking in the bowels of the ship.

Struggling to handle one principal narrative thread, let alone two, Haunting of the Queen Mary fails early in the most glaringly obvious of its issues: constructed as a one-shot series which is crammed into a two-hour run time. As a six-part miniseries in the vein of more successful supernatural multi-timeframe pieces (the most obvious parallel is The Haunting of Hill House), there was room for success. But the coherency for a feature film is non-existent; the writing gives itself whiplash as it catapults between the points of view and timeframes, none of which thread into the over-arching narrative well enough to deserve the eventual payoffs and twists which require too much backtracking to come to grips with.

But there’s a lot to gain from this ghoulishly British take on the history of the cruise liner: predominantly that of Lenny Rush’s role as Lukas, Anne’s photograph and ghost-obsessed son, who entangles themselves into the Queen Mary’s history in a brutal and gruesome manner. There’s some remarkably grim and even violently unsettling gore demonstrating a truly sinister heart beating beneath the poor decisions and pacing. Isaac Bauman’s cinematography is often a highlight, offering a dynamic and creative framework to both unsettle and aid (somewhat) in the time-hopping transitions, though the film does suffer from the eternal plague of poorly lit horror tropes, sometimes making it tricky to determine just who is involved in a specific scene.

Amidst the flotsam and jetsam of the latter half’s obsessive compulsion to push harder and fill its cargo hold with more twists, characters, and even more bouts of hysteria and scares, Haunting of the Queen Mary goes off course shifting from an atmospheric, and relatively engaging supernatural horror, and sinking under the weight of ambition. With some genuinely interesting, and creative scares, and a few admirable performances, there are worse tales to embark on – but don’t push the boat out for this one.

Available on VoD now