'The Boat': Film Review

Not exactly built for speed.

First-time feature filmmaker Winston Azzopardi directs his son Joe Azzopardi in this offbeat suspenser, set off the coast of Malta.

A unique two-hander that pits a lost seaman against a disturbingly menacing yacht, The Boat certainly doesn’t shy away from challenging plotting, but whether it can persuade horror fans that it’s worth a look in an increasingly crowded marketplace will require some very persuasive marketing, at the very least.

Not far from the Maltese port of Valetta, a local fisherman (Joe Azzopardi) sets out in his small outboard-motor-powered boat for a day on the water. Soon, however, a heavy fog drifts in, obscuring the shoreline and leaving him completely disoriented. A sudden collision with a drifting sailboat convinces him that he’s found safety, but boarding and searching the yacht, he finds it deserted. When he returns topside, his boat has disappeared, trapping him aboard the luxury vessel. The 40-foot Aeolus proves well-equipped and -provisioned, so he tries to raise Valetta's port on the marine radio, but can’t make contact.

A routine trip to the latrine turns into a claustrophobic nightmare when the door jams, trapping him inside for hours listening to the sound of the boat taking on water as a freighter passes by without hailing him. When he finally breaks the door down and finds himself in waist-deep seawater, he takes drastic measures to get the bilge pumps running. Exhausted, he retreats below deck and crashes out in one of the private berths, only to find the door locked when he wakes up. Convinced that someone, or something, is somehow in control of the boat, the fisherman desperately tries to escape the Aeolus, as the yacht powers through the waves, mysteriously locked on autopilot and headed directly into a gathering storm.

The central Mediterranean region surrounding Malta is rich in both folklore and classic mythology, where the demigod Aeolus was considered the “keeper of the winds” in Homer’s Odyssey. Whether such a similarly influential entity controls the sailboat and the fate of the fisherman remains unclear, or perhaps he’s been imprisoned by some sadistic manipulator controlling the vessel remotely. The final frames partially reveal the filmmakers’ perspective, but by then their rather forced narrative allusions have been squandered over the course of the film.

Director Winston Azzopardi clearly knows his way around a luxury yacht, skillfully shooting in tight quarters whether above or below decks, and even inserting some modest special effects. Pacing is not his strong suit, however, and the script, co-written with Joe Azzopardi, becomes repetitive and predictable as the plotting quickly comes up against the physical limitations of the sailboat’s layout.

With very few spoken lines, Joe Azzopardi’s physical demeanor effectively conveys the fisherman’s confusion and desperation, but the lack of any clear narrative resolution lends scant significance to the role.

Production companies: Latina Pictures, Hurricane Films
Cast: Joe Azzopardi 
Director: Winston Azzopardi
Screenwriters: Joe Azzopardi, Winston Azzopardi
Producers: Joe Azzopardi, Winston Azzopardi, Roy Boulter
Executive producers: Rita Galea, Yolanda Golea, Sol Papadopoulos

Director of photography: Marek Traskowski
Production designer: Ino Bonello 
Editor: Daniel Lapira
Music: Lachlan Anderson
Venue: Beyond Fest
Sales: Carnaby International

88 minutes