The world of horror is vast. With so many films across the spectrum of budget, studio involvement, quality, availability, and, above all else, pure scare-the-living-shit-out-of-you-ness, it helps to have trained professionals parse through some of the older and/or lesser-known offerings. That's where Team Fangrrls comes in with Deep Cuts, our series dedicated to bringing the hidden gems of horror out of the vault and into your nightmares. Today we're looking at terror on the high seas with the 2018 thriller The Boat.
It's foolish to imagine we might master the seas. They run deep with mystery, contain untold horrors, and hold little sympathy for man. One sorry sailor learns this lesson the hard way in Winston Azzopardi and Joe Azzopardi's The Boat.
The father-and-son team wrote the script for this lean high-seas thriller together. Winston directs, while Joe stars as the hapless and nameless sailor who boards a simple motorboat for a fishing trip, but goes off course when he stumbles across a mysterious sailboat. Cautiously, he boards, calling out to see if there's someone in need of aid. As he descends into the galley, he finds clothes, food in cupboards, and a radio. There's a bit of blood in a bathroom cupboard, but no other signs of struggle or life. So he resurfaces, presumably to return to his own boat — but it's gone!
Now, being stranded on a bigger, more luxurious boat may not sound like such a bad thing. But our sailor begins to realize he's in trouble. The navigation tools are busted. The radio can't seem to mount a distress call. And things go from bad to way worse when he gets locked in the closet-sized bathroom, and begins to suspect someone or something lurks on board and aims to do him harm.
Imagine a survival drama like 127 Hours, Adrift, or All Is Lost but with a hint of a supernatural horror. Bound to this poor sailor as he is bound to this horrid boat, we're invited into the claustrophobic dread and brewing doom that builds as one thing after another goes suspiciously wrong. But our sailor will rally, throwing a strong arm through a narrow window to snag a literal lifeline, salvaging for fresh water to stave off dehydration, and again and again outwitting the unseen horror that's made him a defiant plaything.
The Azzopardis' script is shrewdly structured, setting up a winding string of dominos that clatter into stomach-churning suspense and sparking scares. And remarkably, they manage to tell the story with few spoken words — which narratively makes sense. The sailor believes he's alone for much of the film, and when he doesn't wouldn't exactly share his plans with the thing that’s trying to kill him. The Boat doesn't dive into the tedious trope of having the character inexplicably speak their thoughts aloud to lay out exposition. There's a spare snare of muttered realization here and there. But mostly the movie relies on visuals and Joe's raw and riveting performance to carry it. And it works! Even for me, a devoted indoors kid who has an almost complete ignorance of sailing and seamanship.
At 89 minutes, the story is a bit thin. But the Azzopardis have made a taut and satisfying tale of terror that feels like a lost episode of The Twilight Zone. In short, it's a trip you won't want to miss.
The Boat made its world premiere at Fantastic Fest.