Siobhan (Hermione Corfield) is a marine biologist student who is more comfortable with books than people. Forced into the field she joins a trawler skippered by Gerard (an impressively grizzled Dougray Scott) and his wife Freya (Connie Nielsen). It’s an uneasy partnership – she has no social skills and hates being out of her lab, they need her money but aren’t thrilled that she’s an awkward redhead (terribly unlucky to have a redhead on a boat apparently). Venturing out into the West Irish seas they luck upon a huge shoal of fish. Unfortunately, the fish are in a restricted area where they come into contact with a deeply unpleasant parasite. Can they reach home before the parasite destroys them all?
Sea Fever is an eerie, unique creature feature which marks a striking feature film debut from writer/director Neasa Hardiman (Happy Valley, Jessica Jones). Plot-wise it’s perhaps not bracingly original bringing to mind The Thing and several early episodes of The X-Files. However, what is unique is the sheer emotional heft Hardiman brings to the story. Creature features are usually heavily focused on the creature with fancy set-pieces. They rarely have time for the people in the story – who are pawns to be killed off in varyingly barbaric ways. In Sea Fever when things happen, and people get hurt it really matters. When the team lose a crew member, they are completely destroyed by it – just as they would be in real life. It’s unusual to see such naturalistic emotions in a genre piece like this and the powerful ensemble really sell the hell out of the grief, guilt, anger and pain they all feel over their circumstances.
Dougray Scott and Connie Nielsen impress as the skippers of the ship. They have a gentle, easy chemistry with each other tinged by loss and are effortlessly convincing as a long-married couple. The characters are fascinating in their rituals and strong religious beliefs and both actors give delicate, nuanced performances.
Corfield is hugely impressive as Siobhan, the awkward marine biologist who quietly becomes the heroine of the tale. Usually, the role of the brilliant, socially inept weirdo is given to a man so it’s unusual to see a woman inhabiting the role. Siobhan initially is horrified by her surroundings and blunders along insulting her fellow shipmates by enquiring why they don’t have better jobs. Her joy over her gradual acceptance by them is heartbreakingly lovely. As things go horribly wrong we watch Siobhan become the courageous woman she always was even if she didn’t know it. It’s a hell of a character arc to pack into barely 90 minutes.
Sea Fever is also eerily relevant to our times with discussions of quarantine and the ethics of weighing one life against many.
Sea Fever is a melancholy, haunting creature feature anchored by strong performances from a killer ensemble. It has the courage of its convictions (which is rare these days) and packs one hell of an emotional punch.