Thursday, April 9, 2020

'Sea Fever' (2019) Movie Review

As everyone is forced to shelter in place, often in close quarters with other people and with few options for avoiding them, it feels like the ideal moment to release Neasa Hardiman’s cramped, sci-fi horror film Sea Fever. Throw a parasitic infection into a claustrophobic situation, add a character pleading with a group of people to remain in quarantine, and it all seems rather of-the-moment.

A confined, paranoid thriller in the vein of Alien and The Thing, the story follows an Irish marine biology student out on run on a hardscrabble fishing trawler. When they become entangled with a mysterious bioluminescent lifeform, a strange infection burns through the crew, and the unlikely allies must come together to survive. 

This relatively simple premise is driven by conflicts of opposites. Siobhan (Hermione Corfield), the reluctant-to-leave-her-lab student, is a loner, solitary by nature. As a counterpoint, the crew of the ship—the captain Gerard (Dougray Scott), his wife and first-mate Freya (Connie Nielsen), and crew members Ciara (Olwen Fouere), Johnny (Jack Hickey), Omid (Ardalan Esmaili), and Sudi (Elie Bouakaze)—are a tight-knit pseudo-family. 

But it’s not just a strife of an outsider entering a new space, though that plays a role, the two sides represent a variety of clashes. Siobahn embodies a scientific approach, while the old-school crew clings to superstition and tradition—they don’t know how to swim because that’s bad luck, and having a redhead, like their guest, on board is a big-time nautical no-no. Within the group, there are also smaller tensions. For Siobahn, she prefers the sterile lab setting where she controls every variable, whereas life on the ship is messy and unpredictable. Broke and desperate, Gerard pushes rash decisions, while Freya counsels reason.

The film takes its time laying out this extant pressure. When Hardiman’s script drops a mysterious sea creature and an even more mysterious illness, one that causes insanity and ultimately eyeballs to explode out of faces, it only exacerbates the situation that much further. 

Sea Fever sticks to the marooned-crew-battling-an-unknown threat template without much variation. But while it doesn’t open up any new territory in a narrative sense, it uses the cramped quarters to escalated things and puts enough of a unique spin on the proceedings so it never becomes generic or too familiar. Most of this is thanks to the strong cast, the push and pull in the group, and the eerie creature design. And bursting eyeballs, that doesn’t hurt.

In the case of the monsters, Sea Fever does much with relatively little. When we do see the glowing blue sea creature, an aesthetic choice that calls to mind the aliens from Attack the Block, it’s creepy and otherworldly. But it also has an underlying idea behind the physical terror. The tentacles change the composition of the wood of the hull, and it infects the water supply, which both adds a tactile threat to the crew’s survival and ratchets up the paranoia, distrust, and eventual madness. 

While spooky, the threat does often appears ill-defined. Sometimes it’s a massive monster that has ahold of the ship, refusing to let it move as it slowly erodes the hull. That, however, largely falls by the wayside as we transition the infected water supply and blowing eyeballs out of faces, creating the potential for a global pandemic. The script stiches these elements together and the seams don’t always hold.

At times the film feels uncertain of what it wants to be and hesitant to fully commit to any path. Part creature feature, claustrophobic thriller, outbreak horror, and interpersonal drama, it stumbles moving from one to the next, trying to be all things. Certain elements are much more engaging than others and investment and pacing vary a great deal from scene to scene. 

Sea Fever flies it’s obvious influences proudly. With interesting ideas and thematic concerns in mind, a solid cast, intriguing creature, and tightly packed quarters, it presents an often-taut narrative that straddles sci-fi and horror. But just as often, it fumbles when deciding what it is, what it wants to be, and where it’s heading. Still, it’s a worthwhile genre thriller that watches as all too timely. [Grade: B-]

Sea Fever is Currently Available On Demand and Digital

No comments: