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The Ferryman (2007)
Director: Chris Graham

review by Paul Higson

Chris Graham's The Ferryman is another bastard of a British horror film, that is to say it's actually a New Zealand and UK co-production with trite evidence of the involvement of our regal isles in the finished film (which was shot around Waiheke Island and at the Kelly Park Studios in New Zealand). The film does boast a UK casting director though he only had to import Tamer Hassan and repatriate Kerry Fox, a New Zealander; it was more of a holiday home for the talented actress. Fox should be too big a name for a little horror film like this, though since her scintillating performance in Patrice Chereau's Intimacy, and the featured role in the Channel Four series 40 her screen appearances have fallen a little slack. Since she couldn't do worse than her earlier British horror outing, The Wisdom Of Crocodiles, she probably thought that The Ferryman was hardly a step down.

Fox, who revealed a natural real body beauty in Intimacy, has begun to fill out over the last few years, and it could be that which has unfairly dried up the roles. She still looks fantastic though. In The Ferryman she is Suze, a strong and zestful, down-to-earth businesswoman who along with her husband Dave (Tamer Hassan), a South Londoner apparently (though he looks more Maori), take couples out on fishing trips that try to find a romanticism in the salty and unpredictable seas. The passengers must catch and gut their own fish on this journey if they want to eat. The passengers on the Dionysius on this outing include a former nurse, Kathy (Amber Sainsbury from the television series Hex) who turned her back on her profession when she contributed to the death of a child suffering burns through a misapplication of medicine. Her boyfriend is new love Zane (Julian Arahanga), a handsome young Maori. During the voyage he has to put up with fellow traveller Tate's (Sally Stockwell) gross ignorance of his cultural heritage. Then there is the wealthy young American Chris (Craig Hall), boyfriend of Tate. Tate, the aforementioned blonde bimbo is about to move up into that age bracket wherein her last chance of pinning down the husband of her dreams is possible. Nobody is going to want her for her acumen or housekeeping skills that is for certain.

Elsewhere on the ocean, or to be more precise, in some penumbral zone in a neighbouring dimension, the final members of another ships crew square off resulting in one, the Greek (John Rhys-Davies), hacking the other up into very bloody and small pieces which he casts defiantly into the sea and into the path of a pursuant supernatural entity called the Ferryman. The Dionysius receives a distress signal and the group democratically agree to respond, humanity and adventure striking everyone into action, everyone that is but the appallingly selfish Tate. They rescue the Greek who concerns most of the voyagers but strikes a chord with Kathy, who finds him entertaining and characterful. The Greek is inhabited by a trans-migrant who is disappointed to realise that the pain in his belly is a cancer of frightening spread. He hurries to his next body, achieved by stabbing the victim with a magical dagger. The wounds heal but the two are transferred to each other's body. Zane is now in the Greek's unhealthy carcass, wrongly identified as the maniac and is cast overboard by his crewmates. The Greek as Zane is now free to cause terrible calamity among the crew and passengers, with the occasional switch of body.

The premise allows Chris Graham and scriptwriter Nick Ward several opportunities for incredible evil. It is a gruelling and grim horror show that in the age of the video nasty would have just been enough to get itself into trouble with the Department of Public Prosecutions. In Zane's body, the Greek tries to rape Kathy and he breaks the back of Suze's beloved little dog which is left to whimper for the next half hour of running time. In the film's sick highlight, having possessed the body of Tate, putting her in the dying body of her beau, he then taunts the girl, first with the discovery of an engagement ring and then ensuring that the last thing she sees is her body being explored, molested and masturbated at her own hands. I looked for the name of Ruggero Deodati as 'technical advisor' in the credits but it was nowhere to be found. As if that wasn't detestable enough, the film also closes with an incredibly tasteless twist, which sees the survivors forced into an act of the utmost villainy by their new circumstances. I cannot think of another film that closes in this way, not without a forceful reason for the change of character, which the story here does allow.

The Ferryman is mean and twisted, and just what any horror film fan wants. If it is let down, it is because not all of the characters are well drawn or the acting is variable. There is also a nasty habit of flashbacks to remind the audience of story elements that are really quite obvious. This gives the unfortunate impression that the makers presume its audience to be primarily made up of the stupid contingent. The soundtrack is also heavy with lame pop songs including Split Enz's dreadful Dirty Creature, which haphazardly tag along at the most inappropriate moments. What price a soundtrack LP, uh?

Kerry Fox ensures that her character is a lot of fun and is as excellent as she ever is, making the most of her part. Suze's gumption has the viewer willing her to survive. Sally Stockwell is also impressive as Tate, emphasised all the more by the failure of co-star Craig Hall to pull off his feminine collapse as Tate is trapped in his failing body. The makers keep the cast small and fatalities are a long time coming, enabling the viewer to get to know the characters. It is also a necessity that they stay alive at length to assist in the playfulness of the transmigration concept. The film is a throwback to the early 1980s' nasty, the Ferryman is pretty much the Slayer, and the cruise boat trip into hell is Blood Voyage. The Ferryman does maintain interest, is violent and sometimes quite intense, and the concept does allow for a lot of anticipation and surprises. A contemptible little horror film, a reprehensible little bastard, which is well worth a rental.
The Ferryman

in for the kill

just look what yer done!

The Ferryman poster



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