Wednesday 22 April 2020

Sea Fever (Ireland/USA/UK/Sweden/Belgium 2019: Dir Neasa Hardiman)

Less fever, more mild temperature rise in Hardiman's first feature movie. The director's extensive TV CV shows in this restrained, close up drama about a group of fisher folk and a young marine biologist adrift at sea and challenged by an alien entity.

Budding scientist Siobhán (Hermione Corfield) joins the crew of a fishing vessel to fulfil the practical element of her qualification: she also has to complete a dive (this will be important later). Siobhán is a woman obsessed with numbers and patterns, not people, and in early scenes of awkward interaction she comes across as, and looks slightly like, Sofia Helin's Saga character in the TV show The Bridge. The other members of the boat are its owners, husband and wife team Gerard (Dougray Scott, sporting an Irish accent with more than a hint of New Delhi about it) and Freya (Connie Nielsen, in a role first offered to Toni Collette): also Johnny (Jack Hickey) with whom Siobhán forms an almost immediate attachment; Ciara (Olwen Fouéré, excellent in the equally bleak The Survivalist from 2015, and last seen - by me - in 2018's bonkers Mandy); and the below decks pair Omid (Ardalan Esmaili) and Sudi (Elie Bouakaze).

The crew are uneasy in Siobhán's presence. Her red hair is a trigger for Gerard - redheaded women being, according to the rather old fashioned superstition, bad luck for sailors - and her standoffish demeanour does not sit well with the experienced crew. Heading out to where the fishing is good, they're warned off an exclusion area which promised good pickings. After Gerard changes course - although his shiftiness suggests he has an ulterior motive - the vessel gets snagged by something beneath the water which melts a hole in the hull, exposing a strange sucker and flooding the boat with a gloopy substance. Siobhán offers to dive down to investigate, and discovers a luminous, multi tentacled beast which has attached itself to the boat; mistaking it for food, it is later discovered. The gloop, which gets traipsed around the boat underfoot, contains lethal spores, and any member of the crew with cuts or lesions - which is most of them by the end of the movie - is at risk of fatal infection.

Sea Fever - and that title feels fairly meaningless - is a considered, almost ruminative piece of filmmaking, heavy on the human interaction within a confined space, but as a creature feature it doesn't really work. The comparison between Siobhán's awkward relationship with the rest of the crew and her growing fascination with the possibly alien entity is of the greatest interest to the director, which makes everyone else in the cast slightly redundant. The occasional bursts of violence, as opposed to being shocking, just seem slightly out of place: a number of elements don't really lead anywhere, and some of the characterisation, particularly Gerard's old school 'Captain Salty' who leans on superstition and prayer while all the time basically being a breadhead, seems a little unfocused.

The film has been compared to The Thing and Alien, which are both rather lofty in terms of Sea Fever's meagre budget, although certain scenes are lifted from both. It also evokes memories of James Cameron's 1989 movie The Abyss, and more recently 2016's Arrival, with its woman-of-science-confronted-by-the-unknown themes. But while those movies gave us spectacle, there's little to wonder at here, and while Corfield's performance as Siobhán is suitably wide eyed and open mouthed, the whole thing seems a little too inconsequential to engender such interest.

Sea Fever is released on Blu-ray & Digital on 24 April 2020.

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