“It feels like there should be something more – perhaps a new influx of complications or jolts to keep things as sharp and unpredictable as they have been – but the film doesn’t fully connect in the end.”
by Ken Bakely
An effective sense of dread builds throughout the first half of Sea Fever. Neasa Hardiman’s tight direction is complimented by good production design and dedicated performances. But when it comes time for the events of the plot to begin rendering chaos upon the characters, the film comes up disappointingly short. At some level, the story is too constrained for its own good: a commendably minimal setting is unfortunately combined with barebones scripting and an underwhelming denouement, even after things start out engagingly enough. Set almost entirely on a small fishing vessel, the film follows Siobhán (Hermione Corfield), a marine biology student who is conducting a study in the company of the ship’s tight-knit crew. While there’s some initial distrust of this quiet, pensive stranger, these squabbles quickly become immaterial when the boat is caught on something they can’t identify. Initially thought to be a barnacle, then perhaps a yet-undiscovered species of giant squid, the answer turns out to be far stranger and much more sinister. It’s a tentacled creature that oozes an alarming, neon-blue substance into the ship, and more dangerously, has infected the water supply with a parasite which will kill or severely maim anyone who comes into contact with it. From here, Siobhán must assume control in the chaos, dealing with an increasingly hostile crew while trying to devise a plan to survive this ordeal, and contain the threat at hand.
Sea Fever is at its best when closely focused on its main character, and her perspective amidst the proceedings. Hardiman creates a thoughtfully composed arc for her and the decisions she must make, and Corfield’s performance is formidable and intense. But the rest of the film is not as steady or consistent; though the other actors work together well, the script simply doesn’t allot them nearly as much space to develop their characters. Many of the movie’s accomplishments come in the form of its suitably unsettled mood, which lead into more than a few sequences of efficient, all-out horror: the revelation of exactly what happens when someone ingests the infected water is hard to shake. The problem is that there isn’t enough lasting momentum for the film to see things through with the same energy that it began with. There are only so many surprises that can be dispersed in the setup. And from there, it feels like a marked decline from the potential that was shown from the jump – although, thanks to the capable work of the cast and crew in bringing the film’s world to life, the experience of watching it is never entirely arduous. It’s the script that seems to hold everything back after a certain point, rushing through the ensuing plot points in a fairly rudimentary fashion.
All in all, one comes away from Sea Fever with a lot of admiration for the individual work on display. It’s hard not to think of Hardiman as a skillful director of mood and tone, even when working through the story’s more flavorless sections. And when it comes to the movie’s strengths in building an overarching sense of existential anxiety, its achievements are quite evident even notwithstanding the evident parallels that have been drawn between the film’s central concept – revolving around living in a confined space while trying to stop the spread of a dangerous condition – and the central fears of the time that the film was released into. I would certainly hope that Sea Fever can be considered on terms bigger than just a movie which came out during the COVID pandemic. There’s definitely something of note to be had here: you feel it in how quickly the action starts and how mercilessly the dangers of its world are presented. It’s just that there’s not a whole lot here to latch onto once all the pieces are in place, when the creature has firmly started to wreak havoc upon the boat. It feels like there should be something more – perhaps a new influx of complications or jolts to keep things as sharp and unpredictable as they have been – but the film doesn’t fully connect in the end.