I’ve been a fan of ‘body horror’ for as long as I’ve been a fan of horror films. Not necessarily considered body horror, but Alien (1979) was the first horror experience I ever had and the chestburster scene terrified my innocent seven-year-old brain. I learned then that I thoroughly enjoyed being scared...
...Fast forward to present day, I am a 30-year-old man and my biggest phobia is being near insects who reproduce fast and in large numbers. Hell, even little, non-biting ants terrify me. Writer/director Neasa Hardiman has crafted a film that aims to put my phobia front and center. Sea Fever attempts to stand next to horror heavyweights like The Thing (1982) or the more recent The Bay (2012) and it just might be able to stand its ground.
Marine-biology student Siobhán (Hermione Corfield), has landed a gig where she is allowed to tag along with the crew of a fishing trawler in order to conduct testing for her academic research. The tight-knit crew lets her know early on that she is a guest on the boat by way of cold demeanor and frequent teasing. Miles from shore, the boat comes into contact with an unknown life-form that is quickly identified by Siobhán as an infectious, microscopic threat that can multiply once attached to a host. Our protagonist must not only use her marine-biology expertise to eliminate the spread of infection, but also win over the trust of the crew to remedy the situation.
By my synopsis alone, it may seem like a bit more than an homage to The Thing (1982) as there are stark similarities. For instance, the story revolves around a small screw in an isolated location with no quick escape route. People do become infected and there is the “who should they trust/who is infected” question that nags at the viewer. It’s a suspenseful itch that isn’t original, but highly effective. Because of that undeniable effectiveness, Sea Fever kind of gets a pass from me as far as being original. All filmmakers borrow ideas, but when borrowed properly, it can be just as effective as the source material. Concept aside, the film is firing on all cylinders.
Our actors bring their ‘A’ game with the standouts being Hermione Corfield, Connie Nelson and Dougray Scott. Corfield plays her role with a quiet, suspicious subtlety. One could argue that’s not hard to play, but her transformation into a commanding leader is believable. Not only that, but she’s likable, which is a trait I find harder and harder to find in a protagonist these days. She’s smart, capable and well written. Neasa Hardiman has penned a fantastic script and doesn’t slack on her characters. They all feel like real people with hopes, ambitions, desires and fear. My only criticism would be that there are too many characters by just a few. I think a smaller crew would have given each character the development they deserve. Still, as it stands, everyone is written with great care.
Visually, the film is framed well and opts for a bleak realism look, rather than anything too stylized. Anything different would be at odds with the tone. There are these haunting aerial shots of the boat to transition scenes and it serves as both a way to pass time and also remind that the crew is indeed isolated out in the Atlantic. Something I really appreciated was the sparse and careful use of digital effects. Obviously, during the microscope shots, the organisms shown are CG, but it’s never used in a bombastic, over-the-top way. If you’re looking for a Cthulhu-like creature with giant tentacles crushing boats, you won’t find it here. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy effects-driven movies like that, because I do, but that’s not the kind of film Sea Fever is. There are moments where you see the entity in larger form, but these moments are scarce and when they occur, it’s not the focus of the frame. That being said, this is not a meek and mild horror film. There is plenty of visceral gore moments that will challenge the strongest stomachs. These body horror scenes come across as very realistic, which makes the terror even more effective.
I love film and I love being scared. Sea Fever manages to marry those two things with near-perfect precision. I wish the character count was a bit lower, so we could have focused more on a smaller core group, but these characters are so well written that it’s only a minor offense. Rarely do I see a horror film that manages to work on all levels, but Sea Fever pulls it off. I was legitimately frightened when watching this. This is Neasa Hardiman’s first feature film and after my phobia inducing experience, it’s clear she is capable of excellence. I will be keeping close watch of her work and eagerly anticipate her next project. Sea Fever is a horror film you should not miss. Highly Recommended.
Catch Sea Fever on Digital and On Demand April 10th from Gunpowder and Sky’s brand DUST.
By Jeffrey W. Hollingsworth