SEA FEVER **** Ireland / UK / USA / Sweden / Belgium 2019 Dir: Neasa Hardiman. 95 mins
A subtle, eerie oceanic exercise in containment in the tradition of Carpenter’s THE THING, minus the horrific catharsis of visceral set pieces. Writer-director Neasa Hardiman’s character-driven feature debut has Hermione Corfield as a smart, socially awkward student, hired to study behaviours on a marooned fishing trawler off the West coast of Ireland. She attracts superstition from the close-knit crew (headed by Dougray Scott and Connie Nielsen) thanks to her red hair and struggles with a routine impacting on sleeping patterns. The high potential for “sea fever” is widely acknowledged. Veering into an exclusion zone, they hit what initially appears to be a squid – but the creature now fastened to the vessel changes the texture of the wood and eats away at the hull, while parasites invade the water supply.
This deliberately paced chiller captures the unnerving sense of a group of people trapped in a small space, facing an increasingly lethal threat from something no one fully understands. There’s a gruesome scene of body horror around the half-way mark that inevitably echoes ALIEN but the film is less concerned with full-on monster movie thrills than it is in the grief and paranoia spreading amongst a crew 30 hours from home and potentially bringing a deadly infection back to the mainland. Hardiman sustains the tension impressively, making the most of her limited resources and effectively modest special effects. The Lovecraftian overtones of the monster, a testing sequence and the overriding claustrophobia not only echo THE THING but made SEA FEVER an spookily well-timed movie for release in early 2020 just as the world faced a rapidly spreading pandemic. Corfield is excellent as a tough, sympathetic heroine forced to acknowledge just how insignificant and vulnerable we all are when pitted against the vast expanses of an environment harbouring untold threats.
Review by Steven West