Sea Fever (3 stars)

Sea Fever

Slow-burn and claustrophobic Irish horror taps chillingly into current anxieties

While it may have been made many months before coronavirus was a household word – the film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019 – there's no denying that Neasa Hardiman's slow-burn horror takes on a chilling resonance during the global health crisis. Concerning itself with the crew of an Irish fishing vessel who encounter a deadly biological mass in the depths of the open sea, the film effectively deals with the panic of an unstoppable pandemic on a deeply intimate scale.

Hardiman (a BAFTA winner for her work on TV's Happy Valley) and her cast do a great deal with a clearly limited budget. Shouldering much of the narrative is Hermione Corfield as Siobhán, a loner student scientist who is seconded to an Irish trawler to study the ship's catch. When desperate Captain Gerard (Dougray Scott, with a distracting accent) takes the ship into uncharted waters, they run across a strange underwater creature which infects the boat with deadly parasites that eat through the hull, multiply in the water supply and, eventually, take up residence in the human hosts.

While Hardiman's screenplay may succumb to the occasional genre cliché – intelligent Siobhán's social awkwardness, a tacked-on ending at odds with decisions that have gone before – her filmmaking is absolutely assured. Working with cinematographer Ruairí O'Brien and editors Barry Moen and Julian Ulrichs, she turns the boat into a claustrophobic microcosm of humanity: an entire world cast adrift, where individual survival instincts pose as much of a threat as the creature itself.

Effects are sparse but visceral: organic matter eating through wood, the flicker of something foreign in the white of an eye. Influences run the usual gamut from Alien and The Thing to Jaws and The Abyss; yet, as the characters' disdain and disbelief gives way to fear and isolation, and science struggles to provide any viable answers, Sea Fever reverberates with a timely unease.

Available to watch on demand from Fri 24 Apr.

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