After attracting some interest in Toronto circa 2019, writer/director Neasa Hardiman’s gooey fishing-boat sci-fi drama arrives in time to catch a wave of public interest in disease, isolation, quarantine and infection. Interest may not be the right word; right now, we don’t have much chance other than to take heed about these on-going public-health matters; Sea Fever will not appeal to those seeking escaping entertainment, but the bleak ecological message will attract those who remember such dark warnings as the Doomwatch tv series and film.
Siobhan (Hermione Corfield) is a young, red-headed introvert biologist who turns up on a fishing boat expedition, under the watchful eye of hosts Gerard and Freya (Dougray Scott and Connie Neilsen). Red-heads are something of a curse on sea-farers, so the legends say, and Siobhan doesn’t wow the crew when she finds all kinds of evidence of some kind of malevolent entity in the water, something which she believes is infecting the members of the crew. A previous ship is found with the crew dead and with missing eyes; sea fever, says Gerald, but Siobhan imagines something else…
Sea Fever is a few notches away from the right film at the right time; it’s ironic to see Creative Scotland’s name on the front, not just because there’s zero Scottish content in characters or storyline, that’s something of a signature move, but because it’s an organisation that generally goes well out of its way to avoid relevance to modern life or social developments. But Sea Fever, rote and conventional as its monster movie rips from Alien and The Thing are, hits an uncomfortable stride in the second half, when Siobhan demands that the ship remain at sea as a quarantine; if the crew are infected, their survival might kick-off a worldwide pandemic. This is a potentially huge idea, and worth sitting through the poorly matched interior/exterior shots, terrible GCI tentacles and carelessly observed clichés to get to. The cast all do sterling work, particularly Corfield, Scott and Neilsen, treating the idea seriously when a few choice excisions in the script would have kept the film on a more even keel. Sadly, the ending doesn’t pack a punch due to some pitiful composite shots, but the second half of the journey is relevant and engrossing.
As with history, cinema should be our primary source when considering a subject like pandemics, but Sea Fever, made long before our sensitivities were raised to the urgency of the matter, will gain a wider audience than might be expected. But by seeking to put the fresh wine of current plague-angst into the old bottle of monster movies, Sea Fever is well worth looking at as a thinking-person’s horror movie circa 2020.
Signature Entertainment presents Sea Fever in the UK on Blu-ray & Digital HD from Friday April 24th 2020.