Review: SEA FEVER, Creature Feature Gone Wild
Hermione Corfield, Connie Nielsen, and Dougray Scott star in writer/director Neasa Hardiman's sci-fi horror drama.
Neasa Hardiman's feature debut immediately puts us in a hostile place, at least psychologically.
The protagonist, Siobhán (played by a wonderful Hermione Corfield), is a marine biologist in search of her PhD who absolutely abhors any sort of social communication that isn't related to the work that she's doing. That's why the film rapidly turns uncomfortable when she decides to board a fishing boat that's going into the sea, as a way to expand her investigation on the creatures that live in the Irish waters that surround them.
Aboard the boat, she has to confront practically everyone, from those who don't see the need of someone like her on-board, to the superstitious woman who thinks that because of her red hair, she's going to bring bad luck to the ship. Slobhán struggles with her own self regarding the rest, and the film makes us feel that through the isolation of the ocean and her own face, which becomes a place where most of the changes in the film happen.
The film is a marine slasher creature feature, signaled by the presence of a sort of giant squid with barnacle-tentacles that infects the ship crew members with parasites through open wounds, via a resin-like fluid present in the mouths of the barnacle-like mouths at the end of the tentacle-like extensions of the monster, who also glows a fluorescent blue underwater.
It's a fascinating concept, particularly considering how little we actually know about the abysmal life underwater, the unknown mysteries, and how monstrous the things that we've found about truly are. The ship becomes somewhat stuck as the monster attaches its tentacles to the sides of the ship, but it's not until later that we truly know the nature of how a series of larva-like creatures grow inside the eyes of the infected.
The film has a contrasting balance, particularly between its more explorative/investigative first half to its more thriller/horror-centered second half. Neasa Hardiman manages to create a curious ambiance, focusing on the idle moments on the boat, the dead time if you will, the moments we spend in solitude with each of the people of the crew, particularly the protagonist, who becomes more and more passionate, and has to force herself to care about those around her, under the crisis of a possible widespread parasite infection.
The moments of horror are done effectively thanks to the well-done special effects, but those moments eventually turn somewhat predictable as we get closer and closer to a final girl-like scenario, where the film feels obligated to return to the creature, even if we hadn't seen it for more than half of the movie after its first introduction (and escape).
The 'sea fever' of the title refers to how seamen and seawomen refer to cabin fever but in the context of a ship at sea. At times it feels that it will lead to that, as the parasite infection remains mostly mysterious, and at times even invisible (and unbelievable) for a long time, thus turning to the acting abilities of the cast to both tense things up and advance the plot. I'd particularly like to single out Connie Nielsen, who plays Freya, the owner of the boat, who is both defensive of her property, and at the same time caring about those around her, but without any sweet attitude, just roughly moving forward and taking things her own manner, through the experience of years behind a boat.
The film moves along at a nice pace, making us feel the despair and containment of a ship in the middle of the ocean, but ultimately I don't think it takes full advantage of the concept and the characters, to tell something beyond the fun of seeing these people fighting each other because they didn't think that if they hit shore they could be making the whole place where they lived blind when the parasites finally explode through their eyeballs.
But, alas, that's enough for a recommendation, and for one to look forward to what Hardiman will make, hopefully, in the near future, now that she's been freed of the tyranny of serialized television.
Review originally published during the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival in October 2019. Gunpowder & Sky, via their sci-fi label DUST, will release Sea Fever in theaters and on Digital April 10, 2020.