Year Released: 2019
Distributor: Wildcard/Signature Entertainment
Running Time: 95 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: R
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Deep Blue Sea, Underwater, Pressure, Leviathan, The Meg, Cage Dive, Great White, The Thaw, In the Deep, The Burning Sea, Outbreak
-Minor spoilers will be mentioned. I will do my best to minimize the impact, but I will bring up some of these spoilers to prove a point about something in Sea Fever.
-Special thanks to indie pro wrestler Oisin Delaney from The NIC (Northern/Irish Connection) and Destination: Everywhere for recommending this movie to me. Here’s his Twitter account and his tag team The NIC’s Big Cartel store if you want to support him.
-Sea Fever is the film directorial debut and original screenplay of Irish filmmaker Neasa Hardiman. She has experience directing episodes of Fair City which is Ireland’s longest-running soap opera and the most-watched drama in that country. Hardiman also has a record of being the youngest director of that show. Outside of that, her portfolio consists of Scott & Bailey, directing an episode of Inhumans, and was an executive producer of Jessica Jones. Yes, she’s been involved in TWO Marvel TV shows.
-Freya is played by Danish actress Connie Nielson. Some of her other roles consisted of Hippolyta in the DC Cinematic Universe (mainly the Wonder Woman movies), Claire from The Confessions, and Detective Dani Beck from Law & Order: SVU. Nielson can speak several languages: Danish (obviously), English, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, and Swedish. A minor nod to her ethnicity in Sea Fever involves her character’s husband Gerard calling her a Viking when they are introduced in passing. She definitely gets points for pulling off a legit Irish accent in the movie.
-The music is provided by Swedish multi-instrumentalist Christoffer Franzen. He is best known for being the mastermind behind ambient/post-rock project Lights & Motion. Franzen’s compositional work under his real name and his one-man band has been featured in several commercials from NBC, Samsung, BBC, WWE, and Visa among other companies.
-Culture Bonus/Mythology Bonus: The name of the boat is Niamh Cinn Oir which translates to Golden-Haired Niamh in Gaelic. She came from the sea in the story and fell in love with the warrior Oisin (it’s a coincidence that Mr. Delaney’s first name was mentioned and it’s pronounced Oh-Sheen). Notice how Gerard and Freya’s late daughter have the same name and how the front of the boat has a blonde girl there.
-The ending theme “Shallows” is performed by folk/shoegaze band trio Daughter. They are from London, but they have two members from Switzerland and France respectively. Outside of making this theme song, they did the soundtrack to the game Life Is Strange: Before the Storm.
It has been a long time since I watched anything from Ireland, but here I am again. If you read the notes section and have been on my blog for a while, this is the third movie I reviewed where someone associated with the indie BritWres scene recommended it to me. To recap, the other movies were Singh is Kinng by British wrestler RJ Singh and Who Killed Captain Alex? by Ugandan wrestler Nsereko. This time around, I got recommendations from Oisin Delaney who is originally from County Laois, Ireland but is currently based in England. Oisin and I had constructive email exchanges involving multiple topics and I asked him about Irish movies that I should check out. He gave me quite a few, but I didn’t have time to check out any of them until now. I found one that wasn’t too long and could fit my schedule. Thank you very much, Oisin! It’s funny how life and newer interests can add to different things, right? Ireland does have a happening cinema scene and I’ve covered examples such as Glassland, Life’s A Breeze, and three different Cartoon Saloon movies. This example is going to be a lot different because I’m going to take on some Irish horror. To be fair, that genre has been underrepresented on the blog, so time to change that.
What lurks deep within the scarier side of the Emerald Isle’s filmography?
Sea Fever is about a mysterious journey out on Irish waters. Siobhan (pronounced exactly like Chevonne since it’s a Gaelic variant of that name) is a Ph.D. marine biologist student who is quite socially awkward and would rather be with her computer for research than with other people. Her specialty in studies involves sea life behavior. Siobhan’s quest for knowledge in that field involves getting a spot in a local fishing boat called Niamh Cinn Oir. It’s led by the captain Gerard, his wife Freya, daredevil sailor Johnny, elder member Ciara, and the ship engineer brothers Omid and Sudi Hamilton Accie. They go off to see to land a big catch, so Gerard doesn’t lose the boat due to lacking funds. Things start out normal, if not wondrous with whales swimming in the distance and how there’s a multitude of fish, but the boat gets stuck on a mysterious shoal in an exclusion zone. They try contacting the coast guard but to no avail. Things get even more bizarre when a blueish-green slime shows up in the hull and what resembles a barnacle on the other side shows up. Siobhan volunteers to dive in the sea and use her underwater biology skills to scope out what’s going on. The thing that is stopping the boat wasn’t some kind of loose snag or anchor, but glowing tentacles trapping the ship which could come from a new lifeform. They try capturing the creature, but the nets don’t work. More of the ooze slowly shows up and Johnny’s hand is in contact with some of it after injuring his hand, so they seep into his open wound. What is really lying under the deep and why is the crew getting affected by this mysterious creature?
There’s a quote I remember hearing from an Apollo Z. Hack video (is he still around on YouTube or making videos at all?) over a decade ago when it comes to horror movies. He made an overdramatic scream saying “AIE!”, but clarified that it was an initialism for “Atmosphere Is Everything”. I agree with that statement and Sea Fever delivered in that regard. Earlier on during the intro and calmer elements, the water looks crisp and ambient. Once the horror starts seeping in (figuratively and literally with the ooze in the ship’s hull), the coloration becomes darker. Even the scene with the commercial boat was very chilling with the low lighting. Not to go into too much detail, it was scarier seeing the obscured bloody corpses instead of a jump scare, strobe lights, or intense brilliance. That is how you do low lighting the right way from a cinematography standpoint. The horror was genuinely scary without getting into slasher movie territory even with the gory scene. Oh, the scary stuff was more horrifying than a lot of movies I’ve seen in a long time, so I will give props to Sea Fever there. In addition to the maritime terror, there was a good sense of mystery as to what was going on with the ooze and the creature it was associated with. Siobhan despite having social issues does her best to research everything even if the crew is against her, which gives her a healthy balance as a character and eventually develops into talking to other people there. I did think it was kind of strange that there’s a superstition that people with red hair are bad luck. I assume it’s a contrast to Siobhan’s scientific mind and I’m not even going to bring up an obvious observation about the geography of the movie (people do know auburn locks are more common outside that country?). The music was minimal but used some low-key post-rock and dark ambient during the creepier moments. The ending theme “Shallows” was a good closer for the movie as the credits played. The actors and actresses definitely put the effort into their performances, so I didn’t think there were any misses in that regard. There was one thing I noticed with the main crew and it involves the Accies. I noticed they were the only non-white characters in the main cast (not counting an Asian and Black extra in the lab scene). I guessed they were of East Indian or Middle Eastern descent. Upon further research, I found out that Omid’s actor Ardalan Esmaili is Iranian-Swedish (yes, really) to be specific. Race doesn’t become an issue with the plot, so Sea Fever actually passes the Deggans Rule! Wow, good on the filmmakers for that. This is the 2nd Irish movie I’ve watched and reviewed that passes that litmus test with the other one being the Cartoon Saloon’s The Breadwinner as I’ve mentioned in my Top 7 list about Deggans Rule-passing animated works a few months ago.
I feel like I have to address a certain aspect that needs to be talked about given some various comments I’ve read and also because of the timing of this movie. There have been some theories about climate change given how some sea life can be mutated. That theory has some weight to it and it never gets preachy such as other environmentally-focused plots. However, there’s a glaringly obvious parallel. Without going into too many specifics lest I spoil several parts of the movie, I’m going to bring up things that happen in Sea Fever. After the ooze seeps into the good ship Niamh Cinn Oir, people who touch it without gloves get sick after exposure. The sickness is caused by parasites in the ooze and even the water. A fever happens and the patient gets worse by rubbing their eyes or face. Some characters even die after getting exposed. People in close contact with someone who is infected can get the sickness and have to be quarantined. The exposure time is roughly 36 hours and there’s a possibility that if any infected person goes back to their respective hometowns, they can infect several people and there’s no cure for this illness. DOES ANY OF THIS SOUND FAMILIAR, ANYONE?!? There is absolutely no freaking way anyone can watch this without COVID goggles and the parallels are all too striking in the plot. What makes this creepy is that Sea Fever debuted in September 2019 which would’ve been months before lockdown would happen. Don’t worry, I won’t go into any predictive programming conspiracy theories here, but Sea Fever’s story is even stronger in hindsight since the world isn’t out of the woods yet with COVID-19. The fatal virus aspect makes the horror and the plot even scarier in the 2020s so far which makes this even timelier as well as more effective. Sea Fever has certainly aged much better than another movie that came out the same year that I reviewed **cough** Weathering With You! **cough**. I’m sure anyone who got the coronavirus or knows someone who was severely affected by it will have a stronger reaction to this movie and I swear the level of relevancy in the plot deserves to be noted especially with the timing.
Sea Fever does get marooned at parts of the voyage. Parts of it were predictable with the plot. I knew there would be a body count and there would be some kind of creature connected to the luminous ooze. There were a few twists, but things started to get obvious after a character’s gruesome death with the parasites. To be fair, that was legitimately scary when said character got offed in a disturbing and quasi-nauseating way, but it did set a somewhat predictable tone. The small cast does work with the plot and characterization, but I thought Ciara was underdeveloped. What exactly was her role on the ship? Was she related to the first character who dies because she took it really hard when he succumbed to the parasites like that character was her child? While the story did make sense and was effective, there were times when it was inconsistent. The subtle sci-fi elements were things I didn’t have an issue with, but the 2nd half of the film switches from survival drama, creature/body horror, and a de facto pandemic thriller of sorts, so there were times where I got a bit of genre whiplash. Apologies for namedropping another anime for this review, but it tends to happen given my blogging content. Sea Fever didn’t coalesce genres and themes as much as Texhnolyze which handled so much more facets while still holding everything together throughout that series. It has a deceptively low budget, but the final scene must have been when the budget ran out since it looked like either a cheap green screen or a fake animatronic sea setting which got distracting since there were so many scenes involving real water. The fact that Ireland is an island makes any budget excuse thrown into sharp relief.
If you want a good scare while still seeing something relevant, then Sea Fever is ready to set sail. The horror elements were very effective and the epidemic subtext makes this extremely timely in the right ways even if it gets terrifying. The music and sound design work, but I wish the budget would be consistent and not run out in the end. Despite some predictable plot points, Sea Fever is still worth watching given the positives that even creators would’ve never realized. Thanks for the recommendation, Oisin! I appreciate how I can get suggestions and expand my cinematic horizons from all around the world.
Adjustable Point System:
-Add 1-2 points if you appreciate good atmospheres in your horror movies.
-Subtract 1-2 points if you like slasher flicks.
-Subtract 2-4 points if you prefer higher-budget production.
-Masterful usage of atmosphere and visual aesthetics
-Passes the Deggans Rule
-Highly relevant subject matter with unintentional COVID parallels (remember, this came out MONTHS before the Rona wreaked havoc let alone existed!)
-Some predictable plot points
-Budget slowly runs out at the end
-Theme inconsistencies in the 2nd half
Final Score: 8/10 points
Content Advisory: Sea Fever is definitely not for younger audiences. The language gets very strong with multiple F-bombs in the dialogue. I’ll spare the obvious joke about most of the characters being sailors as to why there would be intense profanity. There’s some drinking and smoking, but that’s the most innocuous objectionable thing in the movie. Characters die onscreen or in passing. The deaths range from suicide and from the parasite ooze effects which get very gory. One such example involves someone constantly rubbing their eyes and face after getting exposed to the ooze and infected water. The character is going blind and there are parasites in the eye that grow large enough and numerous enough to make their eyeballs explode from their head. It gets bloody and you see the parasites squirming in the crimson as the character dies. The subject matter also covers severe mental illness and new illnesses which is impossible to ignore after 2020 for obvious reasons. This would easily get an R rating here in America.
All photos and videos are property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Sea Fever is the property of Wildcard and Signature Entertainment. The poster is from Prime Video and is the property of Wildcard and Signature Entertainment.
Sea Fever Review