When writer-director Neasa Hardiman originally crafted the new suspense-thriller, creature-feature hybrid Sea Fever, it is highly unlikely that she could have forecasted its remarkable relevance to the current state of the world. With the pandemic of COVID-19 impacting the daily lives of practically every individual around the globe, tough decisions have to be made by each member of our collective society. Even as plenty of people make the commitment to “flatten the curve” of the virus’ spread, others continue to disregard the warnings of medical professionals and scientists. How ironic that Hardiman’s film — which originally premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2019 — appears to hold a mirror to the nature of our sociology today.
The central concentration of the narrative is aimed at a young woman named Siobhán (Hermione Corfield), a remarkably intelligent student of marine biology. It is implied that Siobhán is socially challenged, perhaps on the autism spectrum. Thus, when she is charged with the responsibility of gaining field experience on a week-long fishing expedition (with a seasoned, tight-knit boat crew, no less), an entire myriad of fascinating character dynamics come into play. This is likely the furthest from her comfort zone that Siobhán has ever found herself. Yet, this may also be the greatest opportunity for personal growth and development that she has faced.
One could go so far as to say that this 89-minute feature is a slow burn in regard to its pacing. There are small hints here and there that this particular nautical excursion has a certain bizarre quality that could prove to be volatile, but, there appears to be a relatively natural explanation for most of the strange occurrences. Hardiman’s screenplay methodically constructs this underlying dramatic tension, which suddenly explodes in unpredictable fashion at irregular intervals. Hardiman’s atmospheric direction is equally as impressive, injecting a strong creepy factor into various situations, just as the audience believes they are settling into the flow and rhythm of the story. Although we shall refrain from spoilers, making note of the “fever” to which the title alludes is rather significant when analyzing just what makes Sea Fever such an effective commentary in the world of COVID-19. Indeed, there is something lurking in the ocean depths that is definitely imposing, and probably perilous. However, the real danger is found at the microscopic level, as mysterious symptoms of illness, both physical and psychological, begin to attack members of the crew. Paranoia leads to madness and hysteria.
Yet, it is Siobhán who remains the calmest and the coolest. Her grasp on the reality of the situation is firmer than any of her compatriots. The other shipmates intend to get to the nearest port at all costs, even if that means potentially infecting and endangering the lives of others, but, Siobhán appreciates the virtues of compassion, selflessness, and honest-to-goodness morality. This character is a truly fascinating interpretation of the heroic female lead. She is not an action star by any means, but her actions and words do carry enormous weight and bring tremendous impact. Hermione Corfield’s performance in this lead role is excellent. She carries herself with convincing charisma, from capturing the subtleties of her character’s mannerisms to strongly representing the lone voice of reason on the trawler. The very limited supporting cast, comprised of Connie Nielsen, Dougray Scott, Olwen Fouéré, Jack Hickey, Ardalan Esmaili, and Elie Bouakaze, all portray their respective characters with exceptional efforts. The manic energy among the group, and their coinciding descension into mental instability is chilling.
Still, despite the disturbing essence of many of Sea Fever’s elements, there are aspects of magnificent beauty to behold. The shooting locations off the coast of Northern Europe are gently serene and wonderfully majestic. The cinematography from DP Ruairí O’Brien captures the full scope of the expansive ocean, as well as the other-worldly features of aquatic life beneath the surface. The use of the sun’s natural lighting is enchanting. Supervising sound designers Frédéric Meert and David Vranken also make the most of the natural environments, with soothing sounds of rippling waves and quietly lapping water. And, Christoffer Franzén’s versatile music compositions cannot go without mention. The juxtaposition of the film’s dazzling technical allure in contrast to the story’s grim twists and turns is riveting.
While Sea Fever examines bleak thematic material such as the inherent selfish characteristics of human beings, and the counterbalanced cruel and attractive potential of nature, it is the lovely character of Siobhán that shines ever brighter. Her pledge to guarantee the health and safety of others before even thinking about herself is something that we could all stand to learn from and emulate during the era of COVID-19. You will not find a figure like Siobhán in superhero fantasy flicks, but you will find similar people on the front lines in the fight against this virus, and in the general struggle for the betterment of humanity as a whole.
Available on digital April 10th, 2020.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.