Here’s the thing about parasites: when it comes to the movies, they just don’t die. In that sense, you might be hesitant to board Neasa Hardiman’s Sea Fever which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival Friday, September 6. It curious how the small-scale body horror flick can infect audiences that are still taken by similarly-themed classics but the good news is that Sea Fever actually manages to chart a few new courses. Particularly when it comes to its female characters.
BAFTA Award-winning writer and director Hardiman is the captain of Sea Fever, with the Ireland/Sweden/Belgium co-production being her feature debut after years of working behind the scenes on TV series like Jessica Jones and Happy Valley. The film follows a marine biology student named Siobhán (Hermione Corfield, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) who embarks on a research trip on a fishing trawler only to find herself fighting for her work and her life.
“[A] small-scale body horror flick [that] manages to chart a few new courses. Particularly when it comes to its female characters.”
The moment she gets on the ship, we get a sense things aren’t going to be easy for the well-meaning, socially awkward Siobhán. Aside from a general sense of dread, several people note that having a redhead aboard is bad luck (I looked into it and yes, this is an unfortunate sailor’s myth). After one crew member happens on what looks to be a new breed of barnacle, Siobhán is tasked to investigate it.
As Sea Fever continues, we are served a handful of familiar sequences including “The Deadly Discovery,” where the team finds another crew dead, (see: Alien (1979) and the horrific discovery on LV-426) their eyes seemingly ripped out! And of course, “The Ultimate Test” when we discover that you can tell if someone is infected by looking in their eye (see: The Thing (1982)‘s blood test). In between, there are a few welcome detours, including a standout scene in which the ship’s captain, Freya (Connie Nielsen, Wonder Woman) tells Siobhán about a legend involving a woman who supposedly gave herself over to the sea. Prior to this exchange, the two women butt heads, with the veteran Freya giving newbie Siobhán a hard time for being so green (and, well, red). But in this scene, they find some middle ground in their obvious love for their work. It reminded me of the conversations I have had with other women at parties when I find out that they too love a good ghost story.
Toni Collette (Hereditary, Knives Out) was once pegged to play Freya and to be honest, I’m glad that fell through. Collette is a natural scene-stealer and may have overshadowed Corfield’s subdued performance. The understated Nielsen, however, gives Corfield – and Siobhán – space to steer the story. What doesn’t work so well is Siobhan’s romantic subplot and the fact that you know if Sea Fever had been a film about all men, it probably wouldn’t have even been considered. The flirtation is meant to bring emotional weight to the film’s midpoint, but it takes away from some of the film’s most objectively horrifying sequences. It doesn’t help that there’s another couple on board and their backstory is much more gutting.
There are some gnarly death sequences in Sea Fever, including a few that will have you covering – and coveting! – your eyes. Sadly, the underwater special effects are less effective. That being said, the horror is (as you might expect) less about unknown creatures and more about how humans treat each other and the environment. In some ways, I wish that Sea Fever took some more unexpected turns on its less-than-two-hour tour, but after spending decades watching groups of men and *maybe* one women take on similar perils on screen, it’s great to see a movie that even attempts to challenge the format and our expectations. Let’s hope Hardiman continues to twist the genre script with her future films, setting us on a course towards uncharted terror-tories.
“There are some gnarly death sequences in Sea Fever, including a few that will have you covering – and coveting! – your eyes.”
Sea Fever celebrated its World Premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival Friday, September 6. The film is directed by Neasa Hardiman and stars Hermione Corfield, Connie Nielsen, Dougray Scott, Ardalan Esmaili, Olwen Fouéré, James Hickey, and Elie Bouakaze. TIFF 2019 runs September 5-September 15 in Toronto, Ontario and you can find all of our reviews, interviews, and news HERE, as well as on Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!