Sea Fever (Ireland, 2019)
I am a sucker for any horror film involving sea monsters. When I was a kid, I used to tell everyone who would listen that I wanted to be an ichthyologist when I grew up. Most of my non-horror reading was on marine biology or true tales of adventure (or misadventure) on the high seas. When Jaws came out, these two interests merged and I would watch any horror film set at sea, no matter how terrible.
While I am not quite as obsessed these days, it is still ludicrously easy to sell me on films like Sea Fever. It’s been on my list since I first heard about it a couple of years ago. Once again, the October Horror Move Challenge has given me a chance to catch up on my viewing.
Sea Fever is currently streaming on Shudder in the UK.
Siobhan is a PhD student and the poster child for social anxiety. She spends all her time in the lab, studying the behaviour of marine fauna. When her supervisor pushes her into field work, she joins the crew of the fishing trawler Niamh Cinn Óir, off the coast of Ireland. Not all of the crew seem happy to have her on board, however.
The boat’s skipper secretly decides to enter an exclusion zone after seeing what appear to be large shoals of fish on the sonar. These turn out to be massive undersea creatures that glow with an unearthly blue light. One creature seizes the trawler with tentacles that dissolve the wooden hull, dripping secretions within.
While the Niamh Cinn Óir eventually gets free, it becomes apparent that there is an unknown parasite within the secretions. While it initially seems only to cause a fever, this soon escalates in bloody and grotesque ways. After the first death, paranoia builds amongst the crew, and they risk becoming as much of a threat to each other as any parasite.
Who is infected? Does returning to shore risk bringing the parasite to a larger population? And can Siobhan use her knowledge of marine biology to save the survivors?
Some of the nicest character moments in Sea Fever are the discussions about the legends and superstitions of seafaring life. I’d never heard that red hair is considered bad luck on boats or that fishermen don’t learn to swim so they’ll drown faster if lost at sea, and I have no idea how common these beliefs are. Regardless, they add to the texture.
I also have no idea about Dougray Scott’s accent. It sounds awful to me but maybe it’s based on some real Irish accent I’ve never encountered.
It’s nice to see a scientist character who actually seems to behave like a scientist. Siobhan can explain her area of expertise well and apply it when needed. More importantly, she knows the limitations of her knowledge. It’s also refreshing seeing her treating a monster as a rare animal and wanting to protect it for altruistic reasons.
Some of the characters make selfish and irrational decisions about the risk of spreading infection. This seems oddly prescient given the film was made in 2019. The last few years have proved an unfortunate vindication.
Sea Fever is not a film for people with hang-ups about eye trauma. There’s all sorts of blood and gore, but eyes very much come off worst. You have been warned.
Sea Fever is a beautiful film in places. The underwater footage, showing both the variety of sea life and the more weird threats faced by the Niamh Cinn Óir, is gorgeous. A particular highlight is the long aerial shots of the ship, showing us just how isolated our protagonists are in the vastness of the sea.
Initially, the writing felt heavy-handed. When Siobhan is introduced, we are explicitly told what a loner she is and how she needs to make friends. All that was missing was a subtitle explaining that this is her character arc. Similarly, the backstories of some of the crew are spelled out blatantly so we can understand their actions later in the film. Happily, this settles down after the first act and the characters start talking more like real human beings.
I enjoyed Sea Fever a lot more once I realised it wasn’t really trying to be a horror film. Don’t get me wrong — this is a film packed with parasites, monsters and blood. But for all its horror trappings, it is far more interested in exploring its characters and the moral choices they face than the weirdness that threatens them. If you accept that Sea Fever is a drama with a side order of body horror, you should avoid the confounded expectations that put me off at first.
Even taking this into account, I find Sea Fever difficult to get excited about. It’s a perfectly fine film — even grotesque and intriguing in places — but the lack of tension as events escalate lets it down badly. But if you love seagoing horror as much as I do, you’ll still find plenty to lure you in.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- Werewolves Within (USA, 2021)
- Crystal Eyes (Argentina, 2018)
- Super Dark Times (USA, 2017)
- Thirst (Australia, 1979)
- A Ghost Waits (USA, 2020)
- Cemetery of Terror (Mexico, 1985)
- I Came By (UK, 2022)
- 100 Monsters (Japan, 1968)
- Sea Fever (Ireland, 2020)
- Mill of the Stone Women (Italy, 1960)
- Glorious (USA, 2022)
- All the Moons (Spain, 2021)
- Broadcast Signal Intrusion (USA, 2021)
- Incantation (Taiwan, 2022)
- The Gore Gore Girls (USA, 1972)
- Luz: The Flower of Evil (Colombia, 2019)
- Butterfly Kisses (USA, 2018)
- The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (Italy, 1971)
- Saloum (Senegal, 2021)
- The Addiction (USA, 1995)
- Good Madam (South Africa, 2021)
- The Freakmaker/The Mutations (UK, 1974)
- The Long Walk (Laos, 2019)
- Errors of the Human Body (Germany, 2013)
- Eyes of Fire (USA, 1983)
- Caveat (Ireland, 2020)
- The White Reindeer (Finland, 1952)
- His House (UK, 2020)
- Tourist Trap (USA, 1979)
- Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Sweden, 1922)
- Flux Gourmet (UK, 2022)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Night House
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!