A Greek legend is transported to the Land of the Long White Cloud with reasonably entertaining results in the energetically paced Kiwi-Blighty horror pic “The Ferryman.” Toplining Kerry Fox as a pleasure cruise operator whose vessel is possessed by a distinctly displeasured demon, solid genre fare helmed by Chris Graham (“Sione’s Wedding”) will travel well on ancillary, with limited offshore moorings a possibility following late October release in New Zealand. Fests with midnight slots should also take a look.
Titular beastie, based on the mythological transporter of the dead, doesn’t make an appearance until the final reel, but his bidding is done well enough in the meantime by a yachtload of passengers en route from New Zealand to Fiji.
Sans opening titles, the film gets down to business with a gruesome fight on board a ferry that ends with the Greek (John Rhys-Davies) chopping up his adversary’s body and hurling the pieces in the direction of a shadowy figure holding a lamp.
Action switches abruptly to bright sunshine on the coast of New Zealand and the even brighter disposition of Suze (Kerry Fox), a super-cheery tour boat guide who runs a happy ship with beefy Cockney partner Big Dave (Tamer Hassan). Booked for the latest five-day jaunt are Chris (Craig Hall), a clean-cut American; Tate (Sally Stockwell), his demanding g.f.; Zane (Julian Arahanga), a handsome Maori; and his beau Kathy (Amber Sainsbury), a former nurse who blames herself for the death of a little girl.
Unperturbed by the discovery of a human hand in a shark they’ve caught, the group carries on merrily before answering a distress signal and sailing into a special-effects cloud that’s been doing the rounds since John Carpenter’s “The Fog.” Rescue operation produces the Greek, whose presence on board quickly turns menacing. It seems he’s carrying a spirit that owes the Ferryman his famous coin, and is leaping from body to body to avoid ponying up the cash.
Soon, everyone takes a turn being possessed by the cursed entity, which shows a rather disturbing fondness for visiting nasty violence upon female characters. Coming off best in the mayhem is Hall, who puts plenty into Chris’ transformation from nice guy to bad ol’ boy. Top-billed Fox remains a bystander much of the way, leaving it to Kathy to exorcise her own demons and extinguish another in the process.
Plot and character rarely rise above functional, but the screenplay does have some intriguing psychosexual undercurrents, and Graham produces enough vigorous action to leave genre buffs satisfied, if not ecstatic.
Lensing in confined spaces by Aaron Morton is clean and lively, with some nice exterior atmospherics adding flavor to the tale. Commissioned score takes a backseat to a jukebox’s worth of prime New Zealand pop hits of the past 20-plus years. Rest of tech work is seaworthy.