A Fantastic Fest 2019 Review
The ocean is a frightening place, yet writer- director Neasa Hardiman doesn’t wring nearly as many scares out of it as she could in her interesting but somewhat underwhelming debut feature Sea Fever.
The film follows Siobhán (Hermione Corfield), a marine biologist forced to board a commercial trawler to complete her doctoral fieldwork. She doesn’t like to socialize, and the crew don’t exactly give her a warm welcome on account of her flaming red hair, which the salty sea dogs consider to be a bad omen. But when a creature from the deep attacks their boat, Siobhan must rise to the occasion and figure out what they’re facing—and what exactly is wrong with her fellow crew mate’s eyes…
At its core, Sea Fever is a creature feature, which means the creature in question has to look good. And it does… for the most part. During the initial attack, Hardiman does a great job of building intrigue about what exactly is latched onto the vessel, and the DayGlo blue tentacles, pulsating suckers, and oozing slime are certainly unique. Unfortunately, some awkward effects in the film’s climax serve to make the creature seem more like something out of a high school play than the deepest depths of the ocean. As Jaws proved back in the 70s, showing less is often more, and Sea Fever makes the fatal mistake of showing just a smidge too much.
The majority of the scares, however, come from the parasitic eggs that the creature lays—eggs that have an unfortunate habit of getting into human bodies. There’s a particularly excellent gore moment midway through the film, but it’s what we don’t see that carries the most weight. While most of the crew are frightened and desperate to get back to dry land, especially with one of their own bleeding to death below deck, Siobhán alone recognizes the danger of inadvertently introducing the eggs into a new ecosystem. But is it her place to say who lives and who dies?
This ethical and ecological dilemma adds an intelligent undercurrent to a film that otherwise struggles to flesh out its characters. Despite a few charming moments, like when the crew are swapping banter over dinner, there isn’t a great deal of character building on screen, which makes it harder to sympathise as they’re gradually picked off. And with a title like Sea Fever, you’d expect the tension to rise to a boiling point in those close quarters, but it never quite gets above a testy simmer.
Sea Fever won’t grip you as tightly as the creature’s glowing tentacles, but at a lean 90 minutes, it doesn’t outstay its welcome, either. Hardiman’s assured direction and thought-provoking script steer this ship in more or less the right direction, and it will be interesting to see what she does next now she’s made the leap from TV to film.
Words: Samantha McLaren (@themeatispeople)