Sea Fever, an April 2020 Epic Pictures release, takes cues from Carpenter’s The Thing (an “infection test” scene), Cameron’s The Abyss (bio-luminescent creatures from the ocean depths) and Scott’s Alien (a cold, detached character wondering aloud about an unknown organism)…
And then does very little with those obvious and classic inspirations.
A fishing vessel, and its crew of regulars, including Captain Gerard (Dougray Scott) and his wife Freya (Wonder Woman’s Connie Nielsen), is going out for a hopefully plentiful catch to appease their mounting financial woes.
But this particular trip out, a young biologist named Siobhan (Hermione Corfield) is tagging along, to study potential anomalies in their catches from the sea’s deepest reaches. When the ship strays into an off-limits section of water (whales and their calves are present there), it encounters a new, monstrous organism, which takes hold of the ship with hundreds of glowing tentacles and then begins to eat through the hull. On top of that, these squishy tentacles are leaving behind green slime in the ship’s interior, which infects the crew of seven (another Alien homage).
At greatest fault: Other than one or two passing mentions of family and history – Omid’s (Ardalan Esmaili) expectant wife or Flaya and Gerard’s absent child – we’re never provided much to go on, character-wise. We know next to nothing about who these people are, and that does zero to properly engage a viewer.
I’ve said it before, and apparently – since I have had to bring this up before – it still bears repeating. If we don’t care about these people, why the hell are we gonna wanna watch them for the next 90 minutes?
Sure, Siobhan is an intelligent go-getter, but she’s anti-social, cold and somewhat unemotional. Yeah, let me get excited about watching her exploits for the next hour and a half. Could there have been some idea about her history? Easily told in a few lines of dialogue – perhaps she was abused as a child, so she has trust issues? She was in the foster system as a kid, so that’s why she never found friends, ‘cause she was
always on the move? Something. Anything. These flimsy characters are the film’s true failure.
Second big problem: Horror films are always rife with characters making bad choices. But in the world created here so many things are just nonsensical. There’s a difference between dumb character choices (perhaps justified by the character’s personality itself) and the screenwriter forcing their characters to make choices which simply don’t cut it.
Example: Siobhan, after experiencing the creature for the first time, is barely able to explain it (and she’s a scientist, dammit), which could have certainly saved time and perhaps lives. And one of Freya’s decisions in the final reels of the film left me with my hands in the air, wondering why the character’s choice was made so quickly and without emotion or sentiment. And it happened off-screen. Wouldn’t there have been a bit more difficulty for Freya, to do what she was made to do? It’s so very odd.
Finally, the strange absence of a true climax, was a giant head-scratcher. Something happens, there’s little to no build-up, and then suddenly characters abandon ship, there’s an inorganic emotional exchange and then the picture cuts to black to display the closing credits. Huh? Could there have been a few more obstacles to build some excitement to a thrilling climax? Perhaps the remaining characters have some additional and extraordinary difficulties to overcome, before they’re able to escape?
Oh, and I mustn’t forget the random attempt at a love story (flirtatious, brief and weirdly out of place). It was wholly unnessesary, went against the very slim character traits of Siobhan, and did nothing to further story or the character development.
The film squanders early promise. There is anticipation, dread and certainly the joy of the unknown when the ship and its crew first face off with whatever the hell it is in the ocean depths. It then falls into picking off each poorly-drawn character, one after the other, with absolutely no feelings of sympathy or fear from the audience.
It wasn’t all under par. I was pleased with the production design, special effects leftover from The Abyss and the overall decent performances. However, when the actors are given such painfully shallow characters to try to bring to life, there’s only so much success one could expect. Despite some well done practical effects (the green slime and its after-effects on the human body), I think the film could have gone farther with the gross-out factor. A film like this is just dying for ultimate gruesomeness. It is, after all, a tale of infection and body horror.
Sea Fever is yet another example of a sub-par script and story, finding financing which results in a solid production with good actors. But as I’ve said too many times to count, it has to start on the page. Great effects artists and professional performances cannot overcome weak characterizations and lifeless storytelling.
I’ll also make mention of some of the eerie timeliness of a film revolving around an unknown infection. At one point, Siobhan makes an impassioned plea with her fellow (are they or aren’t they infected?) shipmates, asking that they think about quarantining to save their husbands, wives, children, etc. Where have we heard that before?
Written and directed by Neasa Hardiman, Sea Fever did well on the festival circuit, garnering attention from Fantastic Fest and Toronto International Film Festival.
Now available for rent on Amazon, Hulu, iTunes, Vudu, FandangoNow and at other venues, Sea Fever sadly isn’t really worth your time.
Maybe if I’m using a water analogy, it never gets out of the shallow end of the pool.
Sea Fever! Don’t catch it (double meaning intended).