“Ivy” strands six men on a large cargo vessel off the Egyptian coast, where they spend weeks unraveling from boredom, deprivation and internal conflicts. A psychological thriller with eventual supernatural (or perhaps just metaphorical) elements, this latest effort from Turkish writer-helmer Tolga Karacelik (“Toll Booth”) is intriguing enough, but slow-moving and insufficiently atmospheric to stir as much mystery or tension as it should. Offshore exposure will be modest.
After taking a few replacement crewmen on board at one port, Capt. Beybaba (Osman Alkas) continues toward a long voyage’s final destination, where they’ll unload their cargo and presumably collect long-overdue paychecks. But soon he gets a dismal message: The shipowners have gone bankrupt, and if they pull into port, all property will be impounded. Most of the crew are allowed to leave, with a regulatory minimum of six volunteering to stay behind for however long it takes this legal morass to be resolved — and most importantly, their salaries paid.
It’s an uneasy mix of men: The captain prefers to keep himself a remote figure of authority, delegating to the religious Ismail (Kadir Cermik), who takes great offense at the insubordination and laziness of dope-smoking newcomers Cenk (Nadir Saribacak) and Alper (Ozgur Emre Yildirim). Alper is harmless, but Cenk is the ship’s Iago, a weasel who seemingly can’t stop himself from provoking others and sewing dissent. Caught in the middle are guileless young cook Nadir (Hakan Karsak) and Kurd (Seyithan Ozturk), a hulking Kurdish giant of very few words.
Tempers already frayed by dwindling provisions and their interminable wait are pushed over the edge when one of the group vanishes, possibly thrown overboard. Still, it takes until the last reel for “Ivy” to really begin exploiting the vast ship’s featureless empty spaces and serpentine hallways as an entity that might itself drive already stressed men to hallucination, madness and violence. A late eruption of CGI effects tips matters into the fantastical. But while these clearly carry symbolic import, their meaning is murky, and the fadeout ends the narrative on a weak, inconclusive note.
Performances are strong, packaging pro. But given the eeriness and claustrophobia called for, widescreen imagery by producer Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s esteemed usual d.p. Gokhan Tiryaki (“Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”) feels too bright and crisp, with other key contributors likewise making too little effort toward heightening a suspenseful ambiance.
Sundance Film Review: 'Ivy'
Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema — competing), Jan. 31, 2015. Running time: 104 MIN. (Original title: “Sarmasik”)
(Turkey-Germany) A Karacelik Film production in association with Cine Chromatrix, Insignia Yapim, Kala Film, Jomami Filmproduktion, Vana Film, Asteros Film. Produced by Bilge Elif Ozkose, Tolga Karacelik. Co-producers, Ufuk Genc, Doruk Acar Hazar Baycan, Michael Kaczmarek, Markus Bohm.
Directed, written by Tolga Karacelik. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Gokhan Tiryaki; editor, Umut Senyol; music, Ahmet Kenan Bilgic; art director, Ali Sahin; costume designer, Tuba Atac; sound, Bulent Kilic; re-recording mixer, Markus Bohm; assistant director, Ali Ayyildiz; casting, Harika Uygur.
Nadir Saribacak, Hakan Karsak, Ozgur Emre Yildirim, Kadir Cermik, Osman Alkas, Seyithan Ozturk. (Turkish dialogue)