Sea Fever Review: Paranoia, parasitic plagues and pandemic horror | Sydney Film Festival Review | Sydney Film Festival Review | SWITCH.




By Jake Watt
13th June 2020

Part of what's compelling about Sigourney Weaver's Ripley in 'Alien' is that she isn't an action hero. The movie isn't an action movie. It's a movie that, for a lot of its runtime, feels like an action movie is about to break out, with Dallas (Tom Skerritt) in the role of the star. Then he dies and you realise it's been a horror movie all along, and Ripley's the horror movie survivor. She's a great character, but her every action is aimed at escape and avoiding confrontation. When she comes face-to-face with the xenomorph at the end, it's not because she wants to confront the monster, it's because the monster has come to cut off her escape.

In writer/director Neasa Hardiman's 'Sea Fever', Hermione Corfield ('Star Wars: The Last Jedi') stars as Siobhan, a quiet marine biology student. She is pushed by her professor, who is concerned about his student's introversion, to join a fishing expedition aboard the Irish trawler Niamh Cinn Oir. The goal is to conduct research on aquatic anomalies. Due to an old sailor superstition, skipper Gerard (Dougray Scott, 'My Week With Marilyn'), his wife Freya (Connie Nielsen, 'Wonder Woman'), engineer Omid, deckhands Johnny and Sudi, and Johnny's aunt Ciara (Olwen Fouéré, 'Beast', 'Mandy') are distressed to see Siobhan has red hair.


Wouldn't you know it, the ship sails into the grip of a randy bioluminescent jellyfish-like parasite, which has mistaken the boat for a whale. The creature's bright blue, spawn-laden splooge starts to both eat through the hull and infect the water supply. Odd behaviour gradually begins changing chemistry among the trawler's crew until they discover that the creature's goo is transmitting tiny lifeforms into their eyes and open wounds. Not unlike Sebastián Cordero's 'Europa Report', the resulting chaos evokes a grab bag of influences, from Steven Spielberg's 'Jaws' to John Carpenter's 'The Thing', in the film's isolated location, ensemble cast, and rising paranoia.

Hermione Corfield is effective as the shy grad student turned thoughtful hero. For me, the standout thing about Weaver's Ripley was that she was the most rational crew member in terms of her decision-making: cautious, prudent, suspicious. And, yes, she gets scared, but (unlike Lambert in 'Alien' and Hudson in 'Aliens') she never allows the fear to master her and interfere with her decision-making. She's primarily a mental rather than a physical badass. Corfield channels some of that here. The rest of the cast of 'Sea Fever' gives that feeling of competence, camaraderie, and/or love that most other 'Alien'-inspired movies struggle with, with Dougray Scott and Connie Nielsen using their veteran presences to keep fiction tethered to seriousness. Like William Eubank's 'Underwater', Hardiman's film wears its influences on its sleeve. I'm fine with that aspect.

'Sea Fever' manages a few striking sequences - most notably, Siobhan's slow-motion underwater first contact with the big glowing jellyfish and it's impossibly long tendrils. It's hard to discount the "ick" factor, either.

'Sea Fever' manages a few striking sequences - most notably, Siobhan's slow-motion underwater first contact with the big glowing jellyfish and its impossibly long tendrils. It's hard to discount the "ick" factor, either. Those eyeball-friendly parasites are pretty disturbing. Yet once the film is underway, with the crew trying to solve a series of problems to sterilise the ship, isolate the infected and escape the monster, the more you realise that the film lacks the depth of characterisation or fraught tension of the classics that inspired it. The picture rolls along over 89 minutes - it's efficient, rather than scary or exhilarating. Maybe a longer running time would have given the film more of a chance to build a head of steam. Then again, 'The X-Files' mapped similar territory quite effectively in a single hour-long episode, 'Ice'. There's a whole subgenre of 1950s horror films in which a handful of humans have to save the Earth from a dire alien threat in under an hour and a half, too.

Ultimately, while it gets a boost of inadvertent timeliness from the COVID-19 climate of pandemic paranoia, face-touching phobia and quarantined cabin fever, 'Sea Fever' is a fairly straightforward, even generic, blue-collar-workers-in-peril thriller.

Looking for more Sydney Film Festival reviews? Click here to check out our collection of this year's highlights.
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