Producers: Brendan McCarthy and John McDonnell Director: Neasa Hardiman Screenplay: Neasa Hardiman Cast: Hermione Corfield, Connie Nielson, Dougray Scott, Ardalan Esmaili, Olwen Fouéré, Jack Hickey and Elie Bouakaze Distributor: Gunpowder & Sky
As has so often happened in books and movies, something strange and dangerous is lurking under the ocean waves, ready to pounce on unsuspecting humans. But Neasa Hardiman’s debut feature is no “Jaws.” “Sea Fever” barely manages to nudge a viewer’s temperature a smidgen, let alone set one’s heart racing.
The picture is set on an Irish fishing trawler owned by the husband-and-wife team of Gerard (Dougray Scott) and Freya (Connie Nielson) that ventures into waters that have been declared off-limits in hopes of making a big catch. Their regular crew—Omid (Ardalin Esmaili), Ciara (Olwen Fouéré), Johnny (Jack Hickey) and Sudi (Elie Bouakaze)—go along with the scheme, but they’re somewhat upset by the presence of a neophyte, Siobhán (Hermione Corfield), a dour marine biology student charged with collecting data to test her theories.
The crew doesn’t object to the interloper so much on grounds of her personality, however, as her appearance: she has red hair, and seamen believe that means bad luck.
Whether that old phobia is right or wrong, things certainly go badly for the vessel. What are at first thought to be barnacles latch onto the hull. But as Siobhán learns, they’re not barnacles at all, but the tentacles of a mysterious creature that will bore holes through the wood and insert a luminous goop that infects members of the crew and take them over, one by one, until only a couple are left.
What is this strange parasitic predator? Hardiman never explicitly says, but what we see of it suggests a luminescent blue mega-jellyfish with appendages that reach out, snakelike, to do its bidding. The effects aren’t especially frightening, but the images of it do possess a certain visual poetry, and for some viewers that might be enough.
Others, however, will find the film less poetic than sluggish and more boring than exciting. The cast certainly isn’t at fault. All do a thoroughly professional job, but pride of place must be ceded to Corfield. She gives Siobhán a degree of grim intensity, but she is unable to make her an especially compelling character, or the likable focal point the story needs.
That fact is related to one of the major problems of Hardiman’s script: its lack of humor, those cheeky moments that lighten an overall sense of dread. That might not matter so much if the picture generated authentic shocks, but it doesn’t. It never manages to be either genuinely scary or goofy fun. It’s almost as though Hardiman were a bit ashamed of making what’s essentially a low-budget mash-up of “Jaws” and “Alien.” She needn’t have been.
It remains to note the decent craft contributions of cinematographer Ruairi O’Brien and production designer Ray Ball, who fashion a claustrophobic atmosphere in the scenes below the ship’s deck, but also in those on deck, where the people appear isolated although the sea around them is immense. The editing by Barry Moen and Julian Ulrichs is less successful, making for a rather languid pace, and Christoffer Franzén’s score is fairly generic.
Unfortunately, this is a fairly low-grade “Fever.”