DIR/WRI: Neasa Hardiman • DOP: Ruairí O’Brien • ED: Barry Moen, Julian Ulrichs • PRO: Brendan McCarthy, John McDonnell • MUS: Christoffer Franzén • DES: Ray Ball • CAST: Connie Nielsen, Hermione Corfield, Dougray Scott, Olwen Fouére
Sea Fever is a film about Siobhán, a marine biology student, who boards a trawler to conduct research on a routine fishing trip off the west coast of Ireland. The boat is captained by a couple played by Connie Nielsen and Dougray Scott with a crew of personalities to help. Siobhán (Hermione Corfield) tries to keep to herself but is gradually ushered into a family-like crew. When the boat suddenly and the crew find a luminous ooze seeping into the boat, we get a sinking feeling that something has gone very wrong. Writer/director Neasa Hardiman has created an eerily relevant film to what’s happening in the world today. The characters don’t know who on board is infected, and they have no way to fight it. They even put each other in self-isolation to protect themselves while they search for answers.
‘Sea Fever’ is an illness known to sailors when they lose their mind at sea. It’s a form of psychosis from lack of sleep. Hardiman plays with this idea to construct an eco-horror that mirrors the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the similarities to the pandemic are impossible to escape, Sea Fever isn’t really about a virus. It’s about a parasite. It’s about taking resources from the sea that don’t belong to you; it’s about the sea fighting back.
When a giant parasitic squid clings to the side of the boat and begins to inject liquid into the hull, the boat is trapped and unable to move. Siobhán says the squid is in the wrong place, that it’s not meant to be there. But is the rational voice of a scientist enough to save the crew? The film makes us think about who is entitled to the sea and its resources. Tension between humans and nature is exemplified in fraught relationships between Siobhán and the crew. Juxtaposing a detached scientist with a group who know the sea is a useful technique as it shows us both sides of the argument and why neither is willing to budge.
Omens and superstitions are a key part of the film. When the crew take Siobhán onboard their fishing trawler, they don’t realise she has red hair as it’s hidden beneath her hat. It’s a superstition among sailors that red hair brings back luck. Using omens is a clever motif because while you can’t predict what will happen, people at sea use nature to predict disaster. Similarly, when Siobhan sees whales swimming alongside the trawler, she suspects something is wrong. The natural world warns of bad things to come and people decide if they want to listen.
Sea Fever asks many questions of its viewer, confronting us with the idea that the squid is not evil, and that humans are the ultimate threat. Watching it peaked my interest in Irish folklore and if there are any resemblances to sea creatures in Irish legends. I was reminded of the Immrama genre of Irish stories from medieval times featuring supernatural journeys at sea.
As we feel like we’re succumbing to ‘sea fever’ on land, this is a wake-up call to those of us in safety; it could be much worse. A tense allegory about profiting off the natural world, Sea Fever will likely be remembered as a patient thriller with a thought-provoking script and brilliant practical effects.
Sea Fever is available on VOD from 24th April 2020