From Writer/Director Neasa Hardiman, Sea Fever is a slow-burning indie thriller with a psychological and, interestingly, somewhat Scientific edge. Taking place on a West Ireland fishing trawler, it initially focuses around marine biology student Siobhan (played excellently by Hermione Corfield), who joins the boat after wanting to look into and study an everyday fishing trip but, of course, this isn’t going to be your usual outing…
On this research excursion, and in a pre-scene laboratory moment we’re shown at the start, that Siobhan is somewhat of a loner and fully focused on the job at hand, so doesn’t make friends easily. It’s also clear that she’s very literal and doesn’t mess around in making her point clear, in a logical and studious sense. But there’s also a difference between the lab and the ship, this counterbalance throws her world a little up in the air, as she’s got to settle into another new location that she’s not strictly comfortable in.
This is important because it means the crew don’t really warm to her immediately, alongside this, she’s a red head, which can be considered unlucky on a vessel, so they’re not that keen on getting her involved – even though it’s also partly the ships name ‘Niamh Cinn Oir‘. We’re also told that fisherman generally can’t swim, as it’s probably better to die faster at sea than bob around slowly dying for hours, and shown the ship’s engineer, who’s designed a water filter system on board, in this old rusting fishing vessel, and probably should be doing bigger and better things with his life.
Sea Fever is all about atmospherics and the early establishing shots clearly indicate the age of the ship they’re on. There’s an intriguing, and slightly wondrous, balance of the unknown encouraged by mythology, stories of being at sea and a somewhat Lovecraftian lean. This makes for a genuine fascination in proceedings, as we begin to wonder what’s about to happen and why because, before long, something under the water stops the ship, cuts the engine and then below deck, something mysterious is oozing through the sides of the hull.
From here, to avoid spoilers, you’ll have to see what happens inside the ooze, but can the crew work together and stop the parasite from spreading throughout the ship? Of course, you’ll have to see but it doesn’t always hold the anticipated edge that it kicks off with. What I did enjoy was the ensemble cast, which includes Dougray Scott, Jack Hickey, Elie Bouakaze, Olwen Fouéré and Connie Nielsen, plus the cinematography from Ruairí O’Brien, who alongside director Hardiman, to create a believable situation with tense, dark visuals that enhance every ache and creak of the boat they’re marooned on.
It’s also an impressive performance from Corfield as Siobhan, who remains the hardcore Scientist when things get rough, she applies logic to solutions, rather than get lost in the panic, which can often happen with similar setups. It’s also her relationship with Ardalan Esmaili’s Omid that stands out, they spark a natural chemistry. One of the many positives of Sea Fever is that everyone gives genuine portrayals, which rely on human responses in an extreme situation, which is refreshingly different.
While comparisons to the likes of The Abyss and Alien may be unavoidable, and a strong female lead like the latter, plus a type of ‘Last Supper’ had by the crew before everything kicks off, Sea Fever is a little different to those in its own right but it never quite hits the mark with all the probability it sets out before us. This is mainly due to the lack of secrets withheld. There’s room for some sneaky ‘what the hell is it?’ from the earlier scenes but by giving us knowledge of what it is quite quickly, it takes away a little from what’s hidden beneath. Sea Fever is more about watching the characters personal demons fester and develop, much like the creatures that emerge into the narrative, and how their fears lurk underneath, deep in the psyche throughout.