Magical realist Terrence Malick only produced dream-like allegory The Vessel, a spiritual fable about an island community that comes to life ten years after its destruction in a tsunami. But Malick’s expressionistic style has clearly inspired writer/director Julio Quintana’s technique and transcendental worldview: Quintana uses fluid tracking shots and the omnipresent roar of crashing waves to capture the air of expectation and anxiety that overtakes an unnamed island’s inhabitants after reluctant secular leader Leo (Lucas Quintana) builds a mysterious shrine dedicated to local tsunami victims.
Leo and his neighbors, including world-weary Father Douglas (Martin Sheen), aren’t articulate when speaking, but their slouched shoulders and thousand-yard stares communicate effectively. Quintana makes us feel his characters’ fear and excitement through sensuous dream-like imagery, like a slow-motion shot of Soraya (Aria Mejias), Leo’s inquisitive love interest, as she dips her sand-coated feet into a shallow coastal tide. A scene where Leo has an epiphany after he falls into the ocean and almost drowns is also thrilling.
Quintana supplements Leo’s first-person perspective with poetic, disjointed images from some omniscient observer. First we see the scene’s key sequence: a dazzling white light washes over Leo’s body. Then we watch Leo’s shirt billow underwater as it clings to his torso. Finally, a cluster of bubbles rises to the water’s surface.
Quintana’s emphasis on Jungian dream logic gives his otherwise spartan parable a compelling mythic dimension. The Vessel may bring Malick to mind, but it also feels like a major work by an exciting new talent.
Directed by Julio Quintana
Opens September 16, AMC Empire 25