horror/science fiction, not rated, 89 minutes, available on DUST, 2 chiles
Off the coast of Ireland, a trawler cruises the fishing lanes. It’s business as usual for the crew of seven. Onboard is Siobhán (Hermione Corfield), a graduate student in marine biology whose been assigned to check the vessel’s daily catch for anomalies. She’s a shy but whip-smart scientist who keeps her long red locks hidden beneath a knit cap. The color of her hair is a sticking point for several superstitious crew members who believe that redheads bring bad luck to fishermen. Well, the humble crew of the modest vessel is in for a pretty bad time on this voyage, but it isn’t because of the color of her hair. Siobhán, who knows a thing or two about biological contagions, becomes their de facto leader when a deadly parasite starts infecting the crew members, one by one.
Their troubles begin when, desperate for a major haul, the ship’s captain Gerard (Dougray Scott) takes the trawler off course into an exclusion zone. But the vessel gets caught by something — something big. Whatever it is it starts eating its way through the hull of the ship, secreting a bioluminescent, parasite-laden slime. Those who get infected face a grim and bloody death in a matter of hours.
Siobhán is like the Ripley character from Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) and the MacReady character from John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). She’s the one everyone should have listened to when the trouble began but didn’t. Director Neasa Hardiman’s maritime thriller is in the tradition of those horror/sci-fi classics. Those are great films. Sea Fever is a decent film but far from a great one. It’s derivative. The test Siobhán performs to determine who is infected and who is not is straight out of Carpenter’s lauded gorefest but lacks the dramatic tension.
Sea Fever does have some things going for it, particularly the believable performances all around. The cast is terrific. These are some well-rounded characters, and it’s admirable how the film provides background details for each of them without resorting to dialogue. Instead, we get a child’s picture in a locket, an engineer worrying about his wedding ring, and a scene in the beginning that cues us into Siobhán’s introversion and her antisocial behavior. She’s happiest with her eye affixed to a microscope. The film also benefits from its isolated setting: a trawler far from shore and out of radio contact with the Coast Guard. Gorehounds won’t be disappointed, but the best moment on that score comes early on in a grotesque and eye-popping sequence.
Sea Fever travels a well-worn path and suffers for it. It takes you where you expect it to, deflating much of the tension, but doesn’t offer anything particularly original. Even the many-tentacled biological menace from the sea is a disappointment, promising more than what it delivers. Some viewers might find that its theme of a spreadable contagion hits too close to home in the era of a global pandemic. And while the irony of a Syrian survivor desperately signaling to a passing vessel from an inflatable raft shouldn’t be lost on anyone, it lacks the power of a well-placed metaphor. This fever proves mild when it could be raging.