Sea Fever, 2020.
Written and Directed by Neasa Hardiman.
Starring Hermione Corfield, Dougray Scott, Ardalan Esmaili, Jack Hickey, Elie Bouakaze, Olwen Fouéré, and Connie Nielsen.
The crew of a West of Ireland trawler, marooned at sea, struggle for their lives against a growing parasite in their water supply.
Sea Fever made its debut at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival seemingly going over well as an effective aquatic thriller, but its official streaming release date couldn’t have come at a more topical time. In many respects, the unintentional but impossible to miss parallels to the current health crisis elevate writer and director Neasa Hardiman’s (making her feature-length debut here that has experience working in television, most notably helming a few episodes of Jessica Jones) from an entertaining way to kill a few hours to something more potent and thoughtful. For all the jokes currently being made about who or what will be the first film to relate to the health crisis, there’s already one coming your way albeit not in the way to be expected.
With the obvious connections out of the way, the story can be summed up as a group of struggling fishermen/women captained by a married couple tracking some decent findings. They are also being saddled with a marine biology student named Siobhán (Hermione Corfield giving a tremendous breakthrough performance following throwaway roles such as Record Store Owner in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation), a lab rat that would prefer staying indoors closing herself off to society in favor of studies and experiments. She’s not happy about being forced into the field, but it’s a good thing for everyone else aboard the vessel as they desperately need someone to talk some logic and sense in what amounts to some truly selfish people each in their own way.
Siobhán doesn’t just value humanity here, she values all sentient life forms. If it weren’t for her and Hermione Corfield taking what easily could have been a vulnerable character that survived by the skin of her teeth in what is at heart a horror movie, and utilizing her intelligence, rational thinking, and her fearlessness to put some of these idiots in their place when she either finds out about their bad decisions or is preventing them from enacting further harmful stupidity, well, this would be about 90 minutes of wanting all of these people to die. She’s not out to kill the barnacle-reminiscent things attaching themselves to the ship; she’s wise enough to realize that they are all outmatched and that it’s best to use the resources available to study samples and come up with practical ways to fend for themselves. At times, Sea Fever and Siobhán kept bringing to mind Matt Damon in The Martian, only stranded at sea and solving one problem after another to understand what is potentially threatening the lives alongside the best way to proceed without endangering the human population at large.
Basically, there are parasites living within these tentacles (and a much larger being in the vicinity that is both beautifully rendered, especially considering what must have been a small budget, and haunting in a fear of the unknown type of deal) that are pretty much invisible to the naked eye. One member of the crew gets infected which leads to paranoia, fighting, irrational ideas on moving forward, a fishing boat societal collapse, and more than enough lines to make one question if Neasa Hardiman had a glimpse of the future when she wrote the movie. Sea Fever isn’t necessarily a violent movie, but there are enough examples to show that the parasite can kill its host at any time and that it’s nearly impossible to decipher who is infected. Toss in a relatively unknown cast and you have loads of tension for who is next to suffer. Again, the film wisely doesn’t drift into full-blown body horror, always keeping itself tuned in to grander themes and scientific ponderings.
The one major knock against Sea Fever is that none of the crew really stands out aside from Captain Gerard (Dougray Scott) who gets everyone into the perilous situation by performing a number of shady maneuvers including entering an excursion zone. Past that, everyone here is pretty much a blank slate to the point where, once the movie ended, I chose to go back to a certain scene to make sure I knew which of these people made a romantic past at Siobhán. It doesn’t help that some of them look the same, give or take a beard. Naturally, more fleshed out characters also could have raised what are already pretty high stakes once the parasites start doing damage.
I’m going to avoid using the word ‘fortunately’ because I doubt the filmmakers wanted to release their film during a health crisis, but the real-world parallels do make up some for these standard and forgettable characters. When someone is shouting in fear that another character might be infected, well, I’m afraid that’s enough for a recommendation during these times. Sea Fever is exquisitely shot (everything from the underwater sequences to the magnificent creature to the small ship itself that occasionally takes us from floor to floor in the same shot), visually arresting, and despite not necessarily being one of the absolute best films of the year could still come to be one of its defining cinematic experiences
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com