Review: Uncomfortably Timely Sci-fi-Horror Sea Fever (2020) Brings Seaside Scares to Streaming
Updated: May 8, 2021
Title: Sea Fever
First Wide Release: April 9, 2020 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Neasa Hardiman
Writer: Neasa Hardiman
Runtime: 95 Minutes
Starring: Connie Nielsen, Hermione Corfield, Dougray Scott, Ardalan Esmaili
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime ($6.99)
Conducting research for her professor, grad student Siobhán (Hermione Corfield) boards a fishing vessel and prepares to brave the harshness of the open ocean for the next week. A few days pass by in their journey when the ship is attacked by a mysterious creature from the depths of the sea. Unsure if they are going insane or if they really are capitulating to a parasitic disease originated from the monster, the crew fights over how to get out alive. Neasa Hardiman’s sophomore effort Sea Fever is a slow-burn contagion tale that benefits from its uncannily relevant release.
The story behind Sea Fever is methodically restrained and grounded in fantastical realism. Rather than having her characters descend into immediate madness, or sea fever, as Gerard (Dougray Scott) would call it, Hardiman allows the infection and the sea creature to serve as the ultimate antagonist in her story. Sea Fever is refreshing for its decision to emphasize the horror laying in the unimaginable and the unknown rather than relying on the trope that humans themselves are the true horror. Of course, this does not stop the characters from squabbling but their individual reactions to the cosmic terror feel both earned and shaped by humanity.
Boasting capable performances and a compelling cast, Sea Fever pushes back on traditional tropes that typically cheapen characters in horror. Corfield’s leading performance as Siobhán is an excellent example of crafting a truly strong female character. Siobhán is incredibly intelligent and resourceful, but also generally reserved and blunt. Conflict emerges because her personality rubs others the wrong way, but her quick thinking repeatedly saves the group from incurring more immediate losses, so she is still received with authority. Freya (Connie Nielsen) and Gerard provide for interesting foils to Siobhán, often relying on intuition and experience when trouble stirs. Their character's arcs are particularly satisfying to watch because they unfold atypically altruistic for the genre, which was an admittedly welcome surprise to me.
Sea Fever makes wonderful use of its environment to create a downbeat and darkly mystic atmosphere. Well-lit and designed, Sea Fever chooses to bring life to its nautical environment using color as its main tool. Much of our time spent on the boat is saturated in dreary maroons, dark blues, and metallics, which creates a sense of claustrophobia that tightens the already intense energy of the film. Conversely, the sea creature that attacks the ship is bathed in dazzling fluorescent blues and whites generating a stark contrast of the mundane anxiety onboard with the hauntingly beautiful lethal force outside its confines.
Observing its technical merits, Sea Fever delivers solid results. Scenes transition well between each other and never leave the viewer in confusion. Innovative camera work may not be the forefront of this project, but many visually pleasing establishment shots are used to show passages of time, which normally satisfies my visual appetite in a film. Speaking of aesthetics, the creature effects used in Sea Fever are top-notch. From oozing slime in the hull of the ship to bioluminescent tendrils, the creature and the quiet havoc it wreaks is impressively well done for a film with a tight budget.
Steady and with resolve, Sea Fever shares its story in a leveled and competent manner. Hardiman should be commended on formulating this intense and intelligent film. Sea Fever’s tone rarely wavers and it is propped up by the solid performances of its cast and clever writing, all of which have much to do with Hardiman's directorial and writing skills. It is clear that Hardiman went out of her way to make something that felt familiar but with more aplomb and consideration than typical low budget sci-fi horror. I especially appreciate how Hardiman approached the inception of her characters and the execution of the actors that played them. They felt vulnerable and real, which elevated the humanity of their ordeal.
The concept of social responsibility is reinforced throughout Sea Fever’s runtime. As soon as it is revealed that the sea creature infected one of their own with a parasitic illness, the group must grapple with the realities of possibly bringing someone asymptomatic to the mainland and infecting others. After much disagreement, they resign themselves to quarantine until they can prove they were not compromised. The arguments Sea Fever make about protecting others and forgoing self-interest are strengthened with the group’s consensus to do what is right, even if comes at a great personal cost to themselves. The parallels between the plight in Sea Fever and the current situation regarding the COVID-19 panic are uncomfortably spot-on, as this film was made long before we even heard of the virus. It shows the lengths people will go to in order to respect the health and safety of others, which is a message many could benefit from right now.
More pensive and thoughtful than it is titillating, Sea Fever may not reach the depths of its potential but that does not stop it from being an engaging and tense film. Sea Fever does justice in paying homage to films that came before it, most obviously Alien and The Thing, but offers just enough new material to feel fresh and solid in its own right. I was engrossed in its story and mesmerized by Corfield’s performance. Sea Fever is a confidently crafted aquatic creature feature that bubbles enough tension and suspense to keep your eyes glued to the screen, while you still have them.
Overall Score? 7.5/10