[Fantastic Fest review] ‘SEA FEVER’ an intriguing, if not familiar, nautical creature-feature​​

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James Clay // Film Critic

SEA FEVER

Not rated, 89 minutes.
Director: Neasa Hardiman
Cast: Hermione Corfield, Connie Nielsen, Dougray Scott, Ardalan Esmali, Jack Hickey

AUSTIN – Slow-burning genre thrills aren’t for everybody, most viewers who are sitting down something that plays with the fringes of filmmaking are looking for a smash and grab experience. However, some films can achieve tension with deliberately paced scenes that lead to vicious results that can cause the audience to descend into madness. 

SEA FEVER, the confidently directed nautical creature feature by Neasa Hardiman, rests its laurels on crafting a sense of dread out of the seemingly benign situation. Hardiman’s direction creates a claustrophobic atmosphere that gets under your skin. The issue lies in Hardiman’s scripting. It feels like it leaves the impressive group of actors (including Hermione Corfield, Connie Nielsen, Dougray Scott, Ardalan Esmali and Jack Hickey) completely marooned. 

The story follows an Irish trawling boat, led by Freya (Nielsen) and her partner Gerard (Scott), who are cruising with their rag tag crew to score a large stockpile of fish to pay off some debts and pay their crew an honest wage. They’re accompanied by a young researcher Siobhan (an impressive Hermione Corfield), who is tagging along to study development patterns of sea life. This is a pretty big deal for the crew. Not only is the student distant and socially awkward, but she’s also a redhead, which is enough of a bad omen to give a group of superstitious sailors the willies. 

Even though things aren’t quite right, they head off into the great unknown searching for fortune. It’s an inherently romantic idea to cast out into the unforgiving terrain of the sea hopes of discovering wealth. The problem is the seemingly infinite waters doesn’t take too kindly to people plundering its resources for monetary gain. After falling upon a meager find, they wind up finding something much larger: a massive glowing creature with tendrils that attaches itself to their boat and poisons the water supply with tiny, lethal parasites. 

Connie Nielsen is Freya in ‘SEA FEVER.’ Courtesy of Fantastic Fest.

Hardiman’s film isn’t searching for the big explosive thrills that you see in more sensationalized tales of the high sea. Her movie is in search of mediation on actualizing the impending doom of its characters. There are close comparisons to ALIEN or THE THING, but SEA FEVER dives into territory that’s more fascinated with the scientific process of stopping this disease from spreading when the crew finally come back to land. In a lot of ways, the fear feels more like it could exist in reality. However, it’s a shame Hardiman doesn’t explore the characters aboard the ship more. 

The effects in the films are realistic and create a sense of wonder for the viewer to uncover, especially in a scene that showcases Siobhan’s curiosity for nature when she dives into the sea to get a glimpse of that mammoth creature. Corfield’s acting in the scene when she describes what she saw to the members of the crew is awe-inspiring. The reveals that come after the inciting incident features a man’s eyes being blown out of his skull by the parasites, and it lacks the same impact. It’s like being teased about what is to come only to be given 30 minutes of a science experiment, which are fascinating in their own right, however it seems that the tone gets a tad bit muddled in the long run. 

SEA FEVER is a commendable film that introduces Hardiman as a filmmaker to keep your eye. She has leaped into feature films after directing television shows like JESSICA JONES and the UK program HAPPY VALLEY. There’s a lot to adore with a tale of murky waters. It’s just hard to imagine recommending this film that casts a much too familiar shadow. 

Grade: C+

SEA FEVER screened at Fantastic Fest. It currently is seeking distribution. Watch the first clip from the film below.