There's nothing in Sea Fever that we haven't seen before, but it scarcely matters because it's so well done. This is the movie Underwater wanted to be – a fun, exciting, aquatic-themed B-movie with no pretensions other than to offer some decent thrills. It works, thanks to an appealing lead performance and an antsy cabin fever quality that continually cranks up the tension.
Hermione Corfield (Rust Creek) plays Siobhan, a marine biology student assigned to conduct research on a fishing trawler owned and run by Freya (Connie Nielsen) and Gerard (Dougray Scott). She doesn't really fit in. Siobhan is antisocial by nature, and the crew members think her red hair is a jinx. Once out in the ocean, the boat is ensnared by some kind of glowing tentacles coming up from the depths. One of them breaches the side of the ship, oozing a substance inside. Then crew members begin experiencing “sea fever” -- an overwhelming delirium – that leads to a most unpleasant means of death.
A big percentage of the film's suspense comes from the idea that the crew is stuck at sea. They've gone off the assigned route, so no one knows they're out there. And if they come back in to port, there's a risk of bringing along whatever is causing problems on the boat. That leaves everyone stranded, unless they can find a way to stop the spread of the ooze. Siobhan comes up with several ideas to try, the majority of which are met with displeasure from everyone else, even as they recognize that her scientific know-how could be their only hope.
Sea Fever requires us to believe that Siobhan is capable enough to devise potential solutions to the problem. Corfield fulfills that requirement perfectly, projecting a sense of intelligence, as well as a shrewdness that suggests the character recognizes the need to think outside the box. Whereas most on the ship become paralyzed with anxiety or fear, Siobhan understands that an extraordinary circumstance necessitates extraordinary measures. If the audience doesn't trust her, the story falls apart. Corfield makes us trust her with a confident, perfectly tuned performance.
Writer/director Neasa Hardiman pulls off some expert shock sequences. Sea Fever is only as gross as it needs to be – which is to say that it establishes the gruesome thing that happens when people become infected, yet doesn't linger on it to a degree where it becomes off-putting. We see just enough to generate nervousness for the characters whenever they start acting a little weird. Knowing what could happen makes Siobhan's race to find a fix exciting and urgent.
Again, Sea Fever isn't entirely original. It follows a template that Alien perfected in 1979 and dozens of other pictures have imitated over the years. That said, the template is good, and there's always pleasure in seeing a familiar idea executed skillfully. Sea Fever is a tense little thriller that keeps you wound up for eighty-nine minutes.
out of four
Sea Fever is unrated, but contains adult language and some bloody sequences. The running time is 1 hour and 29 minutes.