There are certain horror setups that will always be rolled out no matter how many times it has been done, simply because of how effective they continually are when it comes to stoking fear in an audience. Sea Fever takes on a couple of these setups, mixing in the parasitic paranoia of The Thing with the one location claustrophobia of Alien and the aquatic threat of Deep Rising to deliver a horror thriller that provides a solid genre experience, even if it is as derivative as they come.
Hermione Corfield stars as Siobhán, a graduate doctorate student who studies the behaviour of sea creatures. When she joins the crew of a West Ireland fishing trawler to observe any anomalies out in the fishing lanes she gets more than she bargained for after a mysterious tentacled creature contaminates the ship’s water supply with a deadly parasite. How many of the crew will make it off the boat alive?
Setting a horror out in the middle of the ocean is always a quick fire way of establishing a sense of claustrophobia, and Sea Fever is quick to hit the big blue so that this crew can sail out on their doomed journey. From old sea omens unsettling the more superstitious of the crew (Siobhán being a redhead creates a lot of tension), to the Captain and his wife (Dougray Scott and Connie Nielsen) desperate to make this voyage a profitable one for all on board, debut feature writer/director Neasa Hardiman wastes no time in ladling on the dread.
She also wastes no time getting to the gooey stuff as well. It is not long into the journey that the crew of the trawler become snagged on a mysterious creature that proceeds to contaminate the boat with a parasite in the water supply that doesn’t take too kindly to human contact. The threat of the creature can be a little foggy at points (its origins remain a mystery throughout), but once the crew discover that it’s the water that’s contaminated, the film effectively leans into elements of paranoia. Sure, it is all very much like Carpenter’s The Thing, but Sea Fever has an unexpected timeliness to it as the conversation moves from how to kill the parasite to Siobhán arguing for the fact that the crew must quarantine before heading home to prevent a more wide-spread outbreak of the violent and deadly parasite.
The parasitic threat and the need to self-isolate has made this film, almost certainly by accident, quite pertinent to the current situation that we all find ourselves in. But of course, it all largely stems from riffing on sci-fi classics. It doesn’t quite have the tools to leave as gruesome an impression as the twisted deaths that befell Kurt Russell and co out at Outpost 31, and the bioluminescent design of the monster looks a little more on the tacky side than all that impressive, but there’s an effective level of threat when the drama becomes more focused on who’s infected and how it can be contained.
The film is very well performed across its cast, even if there are a couple of questionable takes on an Irish accent along the way. Hermione Corfield makes for a strong lead as Siobhán. Obviously intelligent but lacking in people skills, Siobhán distances herself from the crew until it reaches the point where she realises she’s one of the only ones who might be able to get everyone out alive. While she may be a scientist who does have an alarming tendency to poke mysterious slime with her fingers, her trying to convince the others on board to quarantine themselves is aspirational in this current climate.
Sea Fever doesn’t win too many points for originality, but it is far from a lazy knock off. It’s a solidly crafted one location horror that establishes an effective atmosphere of desperation. It is lacking in the way of lasting imagery and doesn’t go too far into uncharted territory, but it is a surprisingly timely, sweaty and sporadically gruesome genre exercise out on the high sea.
Dir: Neasa Hardiman
Scr: Neasa Hardiman
DOP: Ruairí O’Brien
Music: Christoffer Franzén
Run time: 89 mins
Signature Entertainment presents Sea Fever on Blu-ray & Digital HD from April 24th