Sea Fever is half thriller, half creature feature horror movie. Though not unique in its set-up, it provides a compelling story that fans of monster movies will enjoy. This is the first feature film from Neasa Hardiman, who has exclusively worked on TV shows before this, but shows that Hardiman has the chops for the big screen.
A PhD student, Siobhan, who is studying faunal behavioural patterns, purchases a ride on an Irish fishing trawler to further her studies. The crew of this fishing boat are struggling for money, and the skipper sees money to be made in an exclusion zone, which they have been warned to avoid, so he takes the boat in without the crew’s knowledge. Soon after, they become marooned and discover that a strange slime, which is causing breaches in the hull, is coming from the tentacles of a giant squid. This turns out to be the least of their problems when they realize that a parasite, that has lethal effects, is in their water supply.
Too often with creature features, even if the story is competent, the acting will not be. However, with Sea Fever this is not the case. Siobhan, our blunt and socially awkward protagonist, is the star of this film. In the beginning, she is the passenger they do not want, not fitting in. Her red hair is also a problem since there are superstitions about it causing bad luck. Initially she seems to be causing some tension within the crew, but as things start to get heavy, you realize that she may be the only one able and willing to save everyone on the ship and on land. Forced into an impossible situation, our wallflower becomes the active leader, who starts to making all the decisions to protect herself, the crew and humanity.
I wish I could say that the rest of the characters had a similar transformation, alas they did not. You might find that some of their backgrounds are cliché such as the skipper and his wife – the struggling fishers, who make change in course that damns the ship. Or the crew that have not been paid in months, but have experience worthy of higher pursuits. However, it does give us a bit to work with. And I can mostly ignore this, as their interpersonal dynamics and the camaraderie negates any two-dimensional feel that Sea Fever might otherwise have. This made any actions by the crew seem more realistic than if it had just been strangers stranded together.
Unlike other creature features, a lot of the scenes are reactions from the crew to save themselves. Though there are a few hairy scenes underwater that have a lovecraftian vibe and a few involving the eyes (which was quite shocking, icky and dramatic by itself), the parasite is just the catalyst to spur the crew in action or inaction, as may be the case. The little special effects that are displayed are good and do not detract from this film. But you would be disappointed if you are expecting to see a chase, or a dramatic monster moment. But when we do see this creature and parasite at work, albeit briefly, they do not skimp on the visuals at all.
The parasite in this case mostly works in the shadows, infecting the crew one by one. Though there are similarities to The Thing, among other classics such as Alien, Sea Fever is more similar to The X-Files episode, “Ice”, if you have seen it. The parasite does not have a big gotcha moment that you would expect from the classic creature feature movies. It is the threat of infection, that drives the drama and story forward in Sea Fever, with the crew taking centre stage. It is this that makes this an interesting film, rather than going for cheap thrills such as jump-scares, they use the tension amongst the crew and the cinematography to create an atmosphere that is tense and claustrophobic. Thankfully it also manages to avoid the usual stupid decision-making that drives a lot of horror fans insane, often prompting the inevitable shouting at the screen.
They manage to keep this up to the ending, which without spoiling it, was quite sad, as you would expect from a horror thriller. By introducing the fate of the outside world into the mix, they managed to elevate above the usual monster movie dynamics. Not only were their lives at stake, but the rest of humanity. The usual human reactions were on display here, with selfishness and selflessness portrayed in bittersweet harmony.
The one thing I would criticize about Sea Fever, is sometimes the pace is a bit slow. It takes a bit of time before the drama starts happening, however I did not find myself bored by these earlier scenes. And when the drama did happen, I felt it was lacking some punch. Even though I liked the character driven story, the tension could have been further amplified, if they had shown more of how the infection affected the crew, before their untimely deaths. Apart from run-of-the-mill feverish symptoms, the infection did not have any other effects, which made it rather dull to see until their explosive deaths.
Sea Fever manages to create a compelling and atmospheric sci-fi horror, that excels in its character driven story. Though not perfect, as it could have had a bit more punch, it is a worthwhile story in its own right.