Fantastic Fest 2019: SEA FEVER: Survival Horror that Finds its Own Niche

Take a voyage from tranquility to terror in this eco-thriller

Our oceans make up over 70% of the surface of our planet, more than 80% of this has not, or can not be explored. The mysteries of the deep drive exploration and research. Such is the case for Siobhán (Hermione Corfield), a marine biology student who specializes in behavioral patterns in ecological systems. Devoted to her studies, with no patience for distractions such as mingling with her peers, her mentor ejects her from the lab to gain some field work experience on board a fishing trawler. The coarsely spoken, tight knit crew are problematic enough for the withdrawn soul, but nothing compared to what unfolds after the ship is taken into an exclusion zone in the hopes of making a good catch. Seized by some kind of squid, their eventual release means no end to their troubles when it becomes apparent that some secretions that got on board have started a unusual series of events. Siobhán struggles to piece together what is happening while convincing the crew as to her findings and how they might escape with their lives.

Sea Fever was introduced as “Alien on a boat”, but comparisons to Alien 3 are perhaps more apt. It’s a taut thriller in an isolated location where an infestation poses a threat to a tight knit group who contrast with the views of a female interloper. Siobhán is the driving force of the film; a withdrawn figure but becoming more confident and assertive as she immerses herself amidst the crew. Notably when she faces problems she can solve, thus finding her true niche — a mirror to this entity unleashed on board. Her actions give the film something of a procedural aspect, connecting observations with possible solutions, improvising with materials they have on board. The scientific method in full swing in the face of a unknown element, delivering solutions to the problems that occur as they shift through the life cycle of this parasite. It’s a fresh angle that plays well with the more stereotypical aspects of survival horror — cold logic clashing with emotionally charged decisions and often inflaming them all the more. Adding to a mounting dread for a crew imperiled from the tensions without and within. She is not just led by a respect for science, but by a respect for the natural order too. It lays the ground for an environmental message that isn’t very fleshed out but sufficiently sketched to earn an eco-thriller tag. What’s more disappointing is an early dalliance with superstition (a red head on board a ship!) that fails to pay off in some later clash of faith vs. science, with the latter slowly emerging as the only salvation for this crew.

The film picks up some instant weight thanks to the presence of Connie Nielsen (Gladiator, Wonder Woman) and Dougray Scott (Mission Impossible 2), but Corfield holds her own, despite the early character handicap of being this insular figure. She strikes an impressive balancing act, crafting a character you feel for, admire, and of course root for throughout. The supporting cast of Elie Bouakaze, Ardalan Esmaili, Olwen Fouéré, and Jack Hickey add the kind of texture a film of this type needs: likeable characters with a quickly drawn backstory needed to endear you to them. Well worn souls that not only show a rapport with each other, but play off Siobhán in ways that subtly open up her character.

Sea Fever marks the feature directorial debut for Neasa Hardiman and it’s an assured one at that. With cinematographer Ruairí O’Brien, the film opens with scenes that convey beauty and tranquility before immersing us in the claustrophobic grunge of trawler life. Camerawork weaving through the innards of this vessel, metal and wood looking equally warped and weathered. It’s an aesthetic and approach that immerses you in this place and the decisions that must be made. Some may find the pace a little too considered for a survival horror, but Hardiman bides her time, patiently allowing this incident to unfold, a race against the clock for these folk, rather than running for their lives. Sea Fever is an absorbing character study and eco-thriller that slowly worms its way under your skin, and most admirably finds its own niche in the survival horror genre.

Previous post Fantastic Fest 2019: IRON FISTS AND KUNG FU KICKS Interview With Director Serge Ou
Next post Fantastic Fest: THE LODGE is a Beautifully Bleak Horror Film