This sci-fi thriller from director Neasa Hardiman couldn’t be arriving on VOD at a more apt time. Its tightly constructed narrative, which follows an unrecognisable virus that spreads on a dingy fishing trawler in the North Atlantic, would be gripping anyway, but as the COVID-19 pandemic dominates our daily lives, Sea Fever feels almost spookily pertinent.
We’re introduced to the trawler through the apprehensive eyes of Siobhán (Hermione Corfield), a marine biology student who’s reluctantly come aboard to study “anomalies” in its catch. Her red hair immediately spooks superstitious crew members who believe it’s a sign of bad luck, but husband and wife owners Gerard (Dougray Scott) and Freya (Connie Nielson) need her boarding fee and let her stay on board as they set sail from Ireland’s west coast. It’s made clear from the start that Siobhán is a brilliantly intuitive scientist with slightly less dazzling interpersonal skills. When she learns that crew member Omid (Ardalan Esmaili) has engineered the ship’s surprisingly sophisticated plumbing system, she asks him bluntly why he has such a “low status” job.
There’s an efficiently illustrated gap in class and outlook between ambitious Siobhán and the evidently down-at-heel crew members, plus a suggestion that friendly Johnny (Jack Hickey) might help her bridge it. But Hardiman, making her feature film debut after directing episodes of TV’s Happy Valley and Inhumans, sensibly concentrates on the main event: a massive parasitic creature that attaches itself to the ship’s hull, grounding it in the ocean as it spews a suspicious green bilge into the cabin. While Siobhán tries to work out exactly what this bizarre barnacle-squid hybrid might be, it dawns on her that it’s infecting crew members with a fast-spreading virus.
It would be super-spoilery to say much more, but as Sea Fever sails sleekly to its final destination, it raises incredibly topical questions about how to behave in the face of a deadly virus. Should you quarantine to save others, or do what feels right for you in the moment? Corfield, who previously shone in the 2019 thriller Rust Creek, is equally impressive here as she shows Siobhán growing in confidence and gravitas in front of the crew. Though Hardiman clearly lacks the budget to make her film’s North Atlantic setting feel completely expansive, this doesn’t really deflate the tension she creates. Here is an intelligent and very effective thriller that makes for a gut-wrenching watch in the age of coronavirus.
- Director: Neasa Hardiman
- Starring: Connie Nielsen, Hermione Corfield, Dougray Scott
- Release date: April 24 (VOD)