A surprisingly good and surprisingly timely thriller, Irish director’s Neasa Hardiman’s Sea Fever takes the pretty crowded horror-at-sea subgenre and infuses it with a painfully modern twist: a vicious contagion. Sporting tight camerawork, believable effects and strong performances, Sea Fever builds on the strong work Hardiman showed on television series like the UK’s “Happy Valley” and Netflix’s gone-too-soon “Jessica Jones.”

The film follows young scientist Siobhán (Hermione Corfield) as she sets out on an Irish fishing boat called the Niamh Cinn Óir. The boat’s name, and Siobhán’s red hair – which is unlucky to some of the gruff fisherfolk Siobhán finds herself sailing with – are just a couple of ways that Hardiman (who also wrote the screenplay) weaves Irish folklore into Sea Fever. Niamh Cinn Óir translates “Golden-haired Niamh,” an Irish mythic maiden who lured men to her magical land. When Siobhán and the captain’s wife, Freya (Connie Nielsen) spot some glowing seaweed, Freya thinks that it must be Niamh. But, as it turns out, worse things than sea maidens lurk beneath the waves.

“Worse things” means a weirdly, wonderfully designed sea creature that’s something like a cross between a jellyfish, a squid and a lava lamp. When this beast latches onto the ship during a storm, those on board find themselves not only stranded at sea but also slowly succumbing to the creature’s influence, which spreads between them like a pathogen. Rather go for the Alien-style of well-earned jumps, Hardiman seems to take inspiration from John Carpenter’s The Thing, allowing tension to grow as those on board start to doubt one another.

The crew, led by captain Gerard (Dougray Scott), are fleshed out just enough for us to miss them as they succumb, but this is really Nielsen’s and Corfield’s show and both actresses carry the film with style. Nielsen, a chronically underused actress who’s experiencing a career bump because of her appearances as Diana Prince’s mother in Wonder Woman and Justice League, really gets some moments to shine and it is great to see her get some meaty roles. And Corfield is very effective as an introvert forced to come out of her shell in order to rise to the horror of the occasion.

One element that’s explored but not used to its full potential is the environmental aspect of the monster’s arrival, which is tied to the controversial trawling used by the fishing crew. This subgenre has given us irradiated monsters, interdimensional monsters, intergalactic monsters, overfed monsters, underfed monsters, cursed monsters, magical monsters, undead monsters, inbred monsters, crossbred monsters and many more, so it’s probably time for a monster that illuminates (pun not intended) the damage we’ve done and continue to do to our oceans and the plight that smaller fishing operations face when put up against large corporations. Hardiman doesn’t spend too much time exploring the ripe themes here, though, and it feels like a little bit of a missed opportunity.

Still, this doesn’t need to be a message movie and it doesn’t need to be a bloody action thriller. It is an effective, slow-burn chiller with a great deal of creativity devoted to its creature design that also passes the Bechdel test. More than anything else, it reveals writer-director Neasa Hardiman as a great talent, and hopefully someone that will be given the reigns of bigger budgeted films in the near future. Anyone eager for a thoughtful and almost scarily current chiller will certainly find a lot to love in Sea Fever.

  • The Ancestor: by Danielle Trussoni

    A work with the bones of a classic gothic tale but with flesh that is of our time. …
  • First Cow

    It‘s pretty male, and pretty white. …
  • Later: by Paul Lisicky

    Though Later bears witness to a devastating time in history, Lisicky resists morbidity in …
  • Revisit: Idiocracy

    Just as Mike Judge’s lampooning of cubicle culture in Office Space feels like a relic fro…
  • Foster Boy

    An astonishing, infuriating and frequently demoralizing tale undone by a general lack of p…
  • Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles

    There is little rhyme or reason to the construction of the material being shown here. …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

The Ancestor: by Danielle Trussoni

A work with the bones of a classic gothic tale but with flesh that is of our time. …