When Neasa Hardiman won the Best Feature Screenplay Prize at the 2012 London Film Awards for the as-yet unproduced film Sea Fever, the Irish TV director and producer obviously had no idea how resonant her film would be when it finally saw the light of day in the spring of 2020. The sci-fi thriller about a parasite infecting a fishing trawler crew in the North Atlantic would, at any other time, play as an Alien-lite Indie flick, coming and going with little, if any, fanfare.

In these pandemic-dominated days, however, the film takes on a whole new meaning, with a terrifying undercurrent that hits home on another level entirely. The simple concept has been seen countless times before: a small group of people stumble on something they shouldn’t have—a mysterious creature that doesn’t take kindly to humans and begins picking them off one by one. Sea Fever, however, elevates the concept by refusing to toe the cliched line that has defined the genre.

Hermione Corfield stars as Siobhán, an introverted doctoral student analyzing patterns in the ocean’s fauna. When she books passage on the doomed trawler to continue her research, she embarks as an instant pariah, an outsider among the seasoned crew led by Gerard (Dougray Scott) and Freya (Connie Nielsen). In an industry governed by superstition, Siobhán’s fiery red hair alienates her further, but it isn’t long before the crew is coming to her for answers. A bioluminescent parasite no one has seen before attaches itself to the boat’s hull a few days out, and before long, it’s not only crippling the vessel but infecting the crew.

Corfield, earning her first (and well-deserved) starring role, proves she can anchor a film with both grace and gravitas, and Scott and Nielsen turn in admirable work, too. (Where have they been all these years?) Ruairí O’Brien’s closed-quarters cinematography and Alex Hansson’s high-quality visual effects (which make the most of a comparatively low budget) are also keys to Sea Fever’s success.

Hardiman, directing her first feature, resists the temptation to rely on typical horror tropes—jump scares, pointless misdirection, idiotic decisions—and instead lets the confined space and underlying dread do the heavy lifting on board. Not exactly a horror movie (at least in the traditional sense of the word), Sea Fever could have perhaps used a little more escalation along the way to be truly considered an instant classic, but as it is, there’s still plenty of nail-biting thrills and fear-tinged trauma on board to keep this thing afloat.


4/5 stars