What would the history of horror cinema be like if frisky lovers didn’t try to make out in the wrong place? So it is in Bhoot: The Haunted Ship, in which a young couple are the first casualties of a strangely empty vessel that rolls into Mumbai one night.

Written and directed by Bhanu Pratap Singh, the 116-minute movie lays on the metaphors and cranks up the volume. The Seabird is no ordinary abandoned ship that happens to have run aground in Mumbai, but is creaking and rumbling with secrets. These are revealed to shipping company employee Prithvi (Vicky Kaushal) through a combination of eerie sounds, video tapes, a crumpled doll and visions of his dead wife and daughter. Prithvi is still guilt-ridden over the loss of his family, and we must believe what we are told because Vicky Kaushal doesn’t exactly wear his bereavement on his face.

Prithvi is better suited to lurking, and lurk he does well. Prithvi’s tour of the Seabird’s vast innards yields some solid jump scares and chilling moments. Aditya Kanwar’s smart production design creates an array of locked doors and rooms within rooms, all the better for a malevolent spirit to hide and terrorise whoever tries to come close. One way to avoid seeing this creature: close your eyes and follow the beats and peaks of the background score, and you’ll make it through the night.

As a mechanical exercise in mounting a screamfest, Bhoot: The Haunted Ship floats along fine up until the interval before gently sinking. The attempt to enhance the premise with extra layers and characters doesn’t yield very much besides taking the attention away from Kaushal. Prithvi’s endeavours rope in his colleague Riyaz (Akash Dhar) and Joshi (Ashutosh Rana), a professor of a discipline so esoteric that we never quite find out what it is.

The set-up is promising, as are the atmospherics, but the Seabird’s mysteries turn out to be more banal than intended. The absence of a strongly plotted emotional undertow to convey the idea that personal loss can lead to a never-ending nightmare of literally monstrous proportions results in a half-full vessel that makes some noise.

Bhoot: The Haunted Ship (2020).