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Sea Fever
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by Jay Seaver

"Often a kraken good time."
3 stars

SCREENED AT BOSTON SCI-FI FILM FESTIVAL 45: "Sea Fever" isn't fancy, but it's a rock-solid "danger from the deep" movie which does a good job with a lot of things which aren't necessarily exciting: Working around a limited budget for actually showing the monster, getting the cast to build characters around pretty thin specs and having them work as a bit more than cardboard figures, implying all of the backstory that would explain things. It's impressive craft that nobody in the audience would notice unless filmmaker Neasa Hardiman blew it.

It opens with graduate student Siobhán (Hermione Corfield) in her natural environment - a university laboratory, examining samples under strong lights, ignoring the other faculty and students celebrating something or other behind her. Ah, but a scientist needs experience in the field, so she heads to the docks and the Niamh Cinn Oir, whose married operators Gerard (Dougray Scott) and Freya (Connie Nielsen) supplement what a fishing crew can make by renting spots to researchers. She's impressed by the filtration system designed by engineer Omid (Ardanlan Esmaili) and maybe likes the look of Johnny (Jack Hickey) a bit, though other members of the crew (Olwen Fouéré & Elie Bouakaze) are a bit superstitious about her red hair. Of course, it's hard to argue that her hair is what leads Gerard to steer the boat into restricted waterways, or calls forth the creature(s) that attach themselves to the vessel.

It's not entirely unheard-of to but a character like Siobhán at the center of a monster movie, but it's not usually the way things go; it's usually more entertaining to have her feed information or be an eccentric foil the the person of action leading the fight. Choosing to do so shakes a familiar story up in interesting ways, though; Hardiman takes a lot of beats that you expect to see in the Siobhán/Johnny romance and playing them out in how she and Omid respect each other's technical savvy, for instance. It also reframes a lot of the movie as problem-solving, rather than fighting, which requires a bit less in the way of special effects and gives the audience a little more chance to play along.

On top of that, the final act becomes a bit more surprising and more the culmination of the character work. Hermione Corfield isn't given an excuse for why Siobhán is asocial to lean on - no backstory, explanation that she's capital-I Introverted or autistic - so she's got room to be abrasive and vulnerable and able to change or show hidden depths without excuses. She's good at never changing her character's basic nature while still growing and becoming more a part of the group, and that really pays off in the end when all the things that made her cute and weird and someone the viewer worries about are also the reasons that she's got strong opinions on what they should be doing and can believably clash with the characters one is used to seeing overwhelm the shy scientist. There's a nice ensemble around her; Ardalan Esmaili as the engineer who knows he needs something better with a baby on the way and Connie Nielsen as a woman whose husband believably calls her a Viking are particular standouts.

And there's mysterious sea creatures! The kraken-like things the crew encounter seem unlikely but not impossible, more like animals than personally-motivated monsters, although Hardiman is clear that despite there not being any apparent malice, the situation is still potentially disastrous. She doesn't have a lot of creature time to play with in the movie, and sometimes one can see where a little more would help, but both the digital and practical versions are used to good purpose. What gross-out moments there are are deployed extremely effectively.

It's small and subdued enough to be streaming content rather than something worth a $10 ticket, especially in the moments that the script wobbles enough that some folks laughing could break the spell, but it gets its job done well. It's good sea monster content for people who like sea monsters.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=33484&reviewer=371
originally posted: 02/14/20 20:50:38
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