Review: Tension on the Water as Infection Spreads in Sea Fever

To be honest, some of you might not be able to handle the messages and plot line of this eerily atmospheric contagion thriller from Ireland, Sea Fever, from writer/director Neasa Hardiman. When the small crew of a fishing vessel encounters a mysterious sea creature that appears to contaminate the boat with a parasitic infection, those on board are at odds with the decision to return to land to get help or stay at sea to wait out the possible contamination—to see who has this illness that makes your eyeballs explode out of your head and who doesn’t.

Sea Fever
Image courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky

Hermione Corfield plays introverted marine biology student Siobhán, who is on board to run behavior experiments on whatever the trawler catches in its week at sea; she also has the great misfortune of having red hair, which is apparently a bad omen among sailors. But when the ship’s captain (Dougray Scott) takes his vessel into an area that is marked as an exclusion zone (because there are more fish there), it gets snagged by an unseen force that turns out to be a monstrous, luminescent, tentacled sea creature. Eventually it lets the boat go, but not before some of the crew begin to show signs of their brains not thinking right and eventually die.

Siobhán’s struggle to both identify the parasite and understand what it does and eventually how to kill it seems very real in our current climate. She’s the only one with a scientific mind on board, and that makes her a target when she insists they stay at sea to self-quarantine, to observe whether anyone who is still alive starts showing symptoms. And this pisses off more than a few people, including the captain’s wife (Connie Nielsen). Sea Fever attempts to take a fairly realistic approach to its scenario, and Siobhán’s scientific method is certainly rushed but well within the realm of possibility, in terms of how a scientist might study such a crisis and attempt to minimize damage. But in order to do that, she must overcome her anxiety of being around others and gain the trust of those around her.

There are a couple of genuine scares in the film, but Sea Fever is more interested in sustained, low-grade tension, and there’s plenty of that to go around. I also like the way the film blends Irish folklore into a story that celebrates facts and scientific data, especially when it comes to superstitions connected to the sea. The movie is grimy, feels authentically cramped, and it certainly looks like it doesn’t smell good either. The ending is a bit ambiguous to the point where it fees like the filmmaker couldn’t quite bring it home, but what comes before is solid filmmaking, and I’m genuinely excited to see what Hardiman does next.

The film is now available on VOD and most streaming platforms.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.