Hermione Corfield as Siobhán
Connie Nielsen as Freya
Dougray Scott as Gerard
Ardalan Esmaili as Omid
Olwen Fouéré as Ciara
Jack Hickey as Johnny
Elie Bouakaze as Sudi
Sea Fever Review:
The psychological horror genre has always been one of the most exhilarating subgenres in cinema when handled properly, with everything from The Lighthouse to The Thing to 10 Cloverfield Lane being notable examples and now the seafaring sci-fi thriller Sea Fever has come pretty close to landing in that upper echelon of quality thanks to an incredibly sharp script and tight direction from Neasa Hardiman in her feature debut.
Written and directed by Hardiman, the film centers on Siobhán (Corfield), a quiet marine biology student who prefers to spend her time in a lab surrounded by work than socializing with her peers. Her social bubble is burst when she’s forced to endure a week on a ragged fishing trawler for a class assignment and finds herself at odds with the close-knit crew made up of the captain Gerard (Scott), his wife and co-captain Freya (Nielsen) and crew members Omid (Esmaili), Ciara (Fouéré), Johnny (Hickey) and Sudi (Bouakaze). But while out in the deep Atlantic they find themselves trapped as an unfathomable life forms ensnares the boat and the crew slowly succumb to a strange infection, driving Siobhán to overcome her alienation and anxiety to win their trust before it’s too late.
Though the characters all initially seem like cardboard cutouts of well-worn tropes, the further the audience gets to know them through the eyes of Corfield’s Siobhán, the more we see that Hardiman has crafted actually complex characters that go deeper than meets the eye. By making the shy and seemingly conservative student the audience’s primary connection to the story, we feel just as inclined as her to make assumptions about the rag tag crew, namely the engineering graduate working on the ship, and the setup works to help develop the crew past their stereotypes.
Two of the most fascinating characters amongst the small ensemble are Corfield’s Siobhán and Nielsen’s Freya, who, despite being amongst some of the most “macho” of men on a boat, prove to be the strongest and most powerful of the group. The evolution from a quiet and shy character to the determined hero evokes fond memories of Sigourney Weaver’s legendary role as Ellen Ripley in the Alien franchise, always looking to ensure the preservation of the human race rather than her own survival. Even without the knowledge that the crew are like their own little family, the way Freya carries herself on the ship and has her authority respected is a wonderful subversion of a female co-captain getting less power than her male counterpart. She is never seen as less or as inferior to Gerard, but often times actually quicker seen as the true leader of the boat and it’s portrayed to perfection.
When the film isn’t offering some truly interesting characters, it is delivering some of the most tense and thrillingly claustrophobic chills only rivaled by the aforementioned Willem Dafoe/Robert Pattinson starrer and the John Carpenter monster classic. From the initial tension of having a literal red herring boarding their ship to the paranoia that slowly builds amongst the group as the unknown infection spreads through them, Hardiman ramps up the tension by keeping the camera in close as the crew explores the underbelly of the boat and begin turning on each other.
The exploration of the terrors of the deep, namely the creature itself, is not as gruesome as The Thing or as visceral as this year’s deep sea monster thriller Underwater, but rather proves to be ambiguous and quietly haunting. The little amount of screen time devoted to the monster itself proves to be a blessing in disguise, as it connects to Siobhán’s scientific curiosities and ability to try and ground it in reality while also helping stoke the fire that is the mistrust of the young student in the crew. Its design isn’t nearly as highlighted as it should be, as it’s an intriguing idea of a never-before-seen squid with disturbingly beautiful arms reminiscent of eels that, despite their compelling nature, prove to be more subtly dangerous than some of the great monster terrors.
If the tension proves underwhelming to some, the performances alone certainly carries to movie to a higher level, with Corfield delivering a quiet-yet-powerful lead performance in one of the best heroines the genre has seen in years while Nielsen dominate nearly every scene she appears in. The female leads are supported by strong performances from their male counterparts, namely Scott, who delivers one of his strongest turns in years.
Sea Fever may not be the most original installment in the psychological horror sci-fi genres, but thanks to strong performances from its cast, thrillingly claustrophobic direction and a beautiful sense of paranoia driving the complex characters forward, this is not a film to miss.