It's a mark of a great filmmaker when a movie is felt first and understood later, allowing audiences to intuit their way through a fog of mystery and sensuality before finally getting a clear view of the landscape. Best known for an operatic trio of revenge thrillers — the second, Oldboy, won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2004 and a fervent cult following — South Korean genre maestro Park Chan-wook expresses florid emotion in cool, impeccable, gothic language.
I grew up on "Hava Nagila," and I'll admit it's not the catchiest of tunes. The ingenuous Hebrew lyrics ("Come! Let us rejoice and be happy!") don't wear well in our age of knowing irony and ennui.
Hip young Israelis wince at the very mention of the song, and for many Diaspora Jews, a few bars of the tune are all it takes to recall that excruciating moment late in a fancy wedding or bar mitzvah, when the band invites all remaining guests (tipsy uncles included) to kick up their heels — and then go home already.
Explosions rattle the crew. The air is turning fetid. And the captain has ordered a descent toward "crush depth." Yet everything is on course in Phantom, the newest model of the old submarine-from-hell picture.
But the predictability of writer-director Todd Robinson's film is, well, predictable. There are only so many things that can happen in the close quarters of an imperiled sub. What Robinson purports to do is show those familiar undersea events from a different vantage point. All the characters in Phantom serve in the Soviet navy of the 1960s.
Undersea things — iridescent creatures, mossy rocks, silky-slimy plants — are just weird. They're fascinating by their very nature, often barely resembling anything we have on land. Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel's half doc, half art project Leviathan capitalizes on that strangeness while linking it to the more prosaic world of commercial fishermen plying their trade off the coast of New Bedford, Mass.