Submarine movies are meant to provoke anxiety — the watery pressure, the battles in wet darkness, the tensions that can build among human beings locked together with no exit. In the handsome, haunting submarine thriller Below, the usual perils of deep-sea maneuvers are heightened by psychic unraveling, as the men of the USS Tiger Shark, lurking in the mid-Atlantic looking for German U-boats during World War II, lose their grip on what’s real and what’s hallucination.
Maybe it’s a result of oxygen deprivation. Maybe it’s the bad luck brought on board when one of the three survivors rescued from a torpedoed British hospital ship turns out to be a woman (Olivia Williams). Maybe there really are ghosts exacting justice for bad things that have gone on before. The cool thing about this B-plus-quality B movie, directed by David Twohy with the same great eye for eerie understatement that he brought to ”Pitch Black,” is that nothing is certain, and every camera shot looks good. (Everything sounds good, too: Twohy understands the power of aural mystery — the whispery sound, for example, of seaweed brushing a sub’s hull.)
The downside is that nothing is clear, either. Dramatic murk is the condition Twohy likes best, and sometimes ”Below” drifts into confusion. (Another maven of darkness, ”Requiem for a Dream” filmmaker Darren Aronofsky, shares screenplay credit with Twohy and Lucas Sussman.) Then again, Bruce Greenwood — the superb JFK of ”Thirteen Days” — is just the actor to assume command in an atmosphere of tense uncertainty. As the lieutenant who takes over after the suspicious death of the boat’s captain, Greenwood sometimes holds the crew’s panic at bay just by the intensity of his eyes. As with much of ”Below,” his performance is an above-average pleasure.