tue 04/08/2020

Sea Fever review - more ooze than aahs | reviews, news & interviews

Sea Fever review - more ooze than aahs

Sea Fever review - more ooze than aahs

A monster from the deep triggers mass contagion fears

What lurks beneath?: Hermione Corfield as marine biologist Siobhán in 'Sea Fever'Courtesy of Signature Entertainment

When Sea Fever premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, no one could have guessed its story about an Irish fishing trawler attacked by a giant jellyfish would in one respect prove prophetic. 

Toward the end of writer-director Neasa Hardiman’s low-key horror movie, self-quarantining becomes a bone of contention for what’s left of the crew. The creature latches on to the boat with its ghostly white limbs, turning patches of the hull into mush with its slime and spreading a lethal parasitic infection that plays havoc with victims’ eyes.

However, no blame should be apportioned the exquisitely beautiful but barely seen monster, which has mistaken the vessel for living prey. The film’s eco-friendly message is that it’s just trying to survive and should ideally be returned to the cold water habitat from which the trawler has dragged it.

The advocate for isolating the boat at sea – until it’s been determined no one on board will start a pandemic on disembarking – is the protagonist Siobhán (Hermione Corfield). A marine biologist in her early twenties, she has joined the crew of six to study the trawler’s catch for abnormalities. They don’t welcome her because she’s got red hair (red-gold, actually), a bad omen for sailors and an unfortunate cue for viewers to judge Siobhán, at least partially, by her looks,

A shot of squiggling tentacles beneath a hatch in the trawler’s bilge suggests Sea Fever would make a compelling double bill with The Lighthouse, 2019. The eeriest sequence depicts Siobhán and others nervously exploring an apparently abandoned ship – a modern Mary Celeste – but as a spawn of The Alien, 1979, and The Thing, 1982, the movie is rooted more in science-fiction than maritime mythology.

Preliminary interactions between Siobhán and her male professor and fellow doctoral candidates establish that she’s an unsociable workaholic and obsessive theoretician. She maintains her aloofness on the boat, though Hardiman has her initiate a dalliance with a sympathetic crew member Johnny (Jack Hickey) when they find themselves below decks and off-duty.

It’s great (if predictable nowadays) that the introverted female scientist should be more sexually assertive than the attractive deckhand, but Siobhán’s desire is irrelevant to her transition from a cold fish into a heroine charged with mankind’s survival. Her moral purpose is enough to ensure our empathy.

Her conscientiousness isn’t appreciated by the trawler’s stubborn “Viking” owner Freya (Connie Nielsen) and its surly skipper Gerard (Dougray Scott, pictured above, at right, with Hickey). Romantic and cash-strapped professional partners, they desperately need to bring home their suddenly leaky tub with a big catch and to keep it operational at all costs; they are backed by the snowy-haired Ciara (Abbey Theatre veteran Olwen Fouéré), who can’t contain the rage Siobhán provokes in her.

The boat's engineers are stoical father-to-be Omid (Ardalan Ismaili) and fretful Sudi (Elie Bouakaze). To Hardiman and her cast’s credit, none of the performances are particularly ingratiating, which encourages speculation about which of them, if any, will live and which will die – a trope of horror films and mystery thrillers that currently gives pause.

Hardiman, who has worked prolifically in television fiction and non-fiction, creates a claustrophobic atmosphere as the murky, ill-appointed boat slowly becomes a death trap – there’s more than a hint of Alien’s rusting space tug about it. Though Sea Fever concludes with a memorably poetic ending that recalls the climax of Stephen Poliakoff’s 1978 TV drama Stronger Than the Sun (as well as Pink Floyd’s most ominous early space rock song), it’s hampered by sluggish pacing, limited creepiness, and a failure to deliver shocks. More dread could have made it one of 2020's most cathartic films.

  • Sea Fever is available for streaming in digital HD and on Blu-ray.and DVD
The creature latches on to the boat with its ghostly white limbs, turning patches of the hull into mush

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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