Sea Fever (2019)
Written and directed by Neasa Hardiman, Sea Fever unfurls as a slow-burning, dread-fuelled nautical tale of terror. As a mandatory requirement for her studies, introverted marine-biology student Siobhán (Hermione Corfield) joins the close-knit crew of a fishing trawler as they head out from the west coast of Ireland. They become marooned out on the Atlantic when they encounter an unfathomable life-form that ensnares the boat. As members of the crew (which include Dougray Scott and Connie Nielsen) gradually succumb to a deadly infection caused by contact with the parasitic creature, Siobhán must win the trust of the increasingly paranoid crew and find a solution before it’s too late.
With its central themes of isolation, infection and paranoia, Sea Fever echoes sci-fi horror classics such as The Thing (1982), Alien (1979) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), but Hardiman’s approach - grounded in realism and science - well developed characters, and favouring of insidious unease over jump-scares, render the film a refreshingly cerebral one. Throughout, Hardiman references maritime lore and nautical folktales and superstitions – such as the belief that Siobhan’s red hair will bring bad luck – to create further tension and unease. With the story largely confined to the limited space of the shipping vessel, a stifling air of claustrophobia prevails. This contrasts nicely with the scenes on deck as characters contemplate the vastness of the ocean and the dread of what is lurking just beneath the surface. The openness of the space and the uninterrupted horizon also conjures a weird sense of claustrophobia and perfectly conveys their isolation. The increasingly panicked crew’s attempts to deal with the rapidly spreading infection and the shifting dynamics within the group drive the story.
Elements of body-horror provide gore and shock. One particularly startling scene - which reveals the ghastly results of the infection - plays out over dinner, calling to mind a similar revelatory scene in Alien, and a later scene in which a makeshift test is devised to identify the infected, echoes a similarly taut moment in The Thing. The creature, or the glimpses of it we are afforded, hints at something Lovecraftian: otherworldly, vast and incomprehensible. It is as eerily placid as it is unknowingly large, which makes for a strikingly discomfiting encounter. Despite its awe and mystery, the crew believe it to be of completely natural origin – a yet undiscovered species acting purely on instinct - not a malevolent supernatural or extra-terrestrial force hellbent on destruction. Their discussions about the mysteries of the ocean and how much of it has not even been seen by human eyes, mine primal fears to great effect.
As events unfold, something startlingly prescient also begins to emerge as crew members dismiss the scientific evidence presented by Siobhan before reluctantly agreeing to isolate themselves to prevent further infection. At one stage Siobhan states: “I want us to stay on the boat until we’re sure that none of us is infected. It’s your families, it’s your husbands, it’s your babies. We have to take action. We have to take responsibility.” This was impossible not to relate to while viewing the film during lockdown amid a global pandemic, and enables the audience to connect with and relate to the characters and the difficult choices they face, ensuring a strong emotional core to proceedings. That Sea Fever also takes time to focus on the hardships faced by fishing communities – which in this case force the characters to enter a fishing exclusion zone out of desperation – and mankind’s’ detrimental impact on the environment, is also noteworthy.
The strangely melancholy and ethereal denouement proves deeply haunting.