I must say that it was a rather odd experience for me to watch “Sea Fever”, which happened to be released in South Korean theaters a few days ago. The movie, which was initially scheduled to be released in theaters this April after shown at the Toronto International Film Festival in last year but instead released on video on demand (VOD) in US and UK due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, is about a small group of characters getting quarantined because of a mysterious infectious disease. That aspect surely felt relevant to me as I watched it along with a few audiences at a local multiplex theater, which still does not feel that safe to us just like many other public spots due to the remaining possibility of another wave of COVID-19 infection around us here in South Korea.
At the beginning, we meet Siobhán (Hermione Corfield), an Irish graduate student who has studied marine faunal behavioral patterns. Being unsocial and introverted, she prefers to concentrate on her study alone, but her adviser professor adamantly demands that she should spend some days on a small fishing trawler which will soon leave for another fishing voyage, and she cannot say no because, like any other graduate students, she does not dare to ignore her adviser professor’s demand.
Of course, things do not look that good right from when Siobhán is about to board on the trawler. Gerard (Dougray Scott), the official skipper of the trawler, and his wife Freya (Connie Nielsen), who is the de facto leader in the trawler, do not have much problem with her. However, the other shipmates are not particularly pleased mainly because of Siobhán’s red hair, which, as some of you already know, is believed to bring a bad luck among seafarers.
After the trawler leaves its port and then goes to the ocean, we get another sign of bad luck. When Gerard and Freya are notified by the Coast Guard that there is an exclusion zone to avoid near their original route, Freya has no problem with following the instruction from the Coast Guard, but Gerard deliberately has the trawler sail into that exclusion zone in question, and, of course, that decision eventually leads to a sudden strange incident. Something big hits the trawler shortly after it enters that exclusion zone, and it soon turns out that, this is not much of a spoiler at all, there is a huge mysterious creature right under the trawler.
Although the creature is subsequently gone and then everything looks fine on the trawler, one of the shipmates suddenly gets very ill. As already announced to us via one scene involved with a trawler which seems to be abandoned on the surface, that leads to a gruesome moment of shock and awe for everyone on the trawler, and it becomes quite clear to them that they are facing a highly dangerous disease with no cure at all.
While certainly anxious and frightened just like others on the trawler, Siobhán observes the circumstance from a cool scientific perspective, and she gradually comes to take control of the situation. After learning more of how contagious the disease really is and how catastrophic it will be once it gets spread into the human world, she tries to find any possible way to decontaminate the trawler, and she also insists that she and others on the trawler should be quarantined for 36 hours at least.
Of course, her sensible position naturally clashes with others on the trawler, who understandably want to return to the port as soon possible. As another shipmate gets sicker hour by hour, everyone on the trawler becomes more nervous and desperate than before, and many of them become quite angry when Siobhán comes to make a certain decisive action for not having the disease spread into the human world at any chance.
Steadily increasing the level of dread and suspense on the screen, the movie immerses us more into the tense and claustrophobic mood surrounding its characters, and director/writer Neasa Hardiman gives us a number of good moments including the scene where Siobhán and other shipmates get examined for any sign of infection one by one. While Hermione Corfield ably holds the center as required, the other cast members in the film including Connie Nielsen and Dougray Scott are also effective on the whole, and they bring some personality to their basically functional roles.
Unfortunately, Hardiman’s screenplay stumbles a bit during the last act which feels a bit too hurried in my humble opinion, but the movie keeps engaging us thanks to her competent direction, and I particularly appreciate how the creature in the film is presented. Made from a rather modest amount of production budget, the movie understandably does not show the creature a lot, but the creature is depicted with awe and mystery at least, and it simply comes to us as an entity following its nature instead of looking merely menacing or malicious.
As a SF horror film, “Sea Fever” will not surprise you much especially you have seen “Alien” (1979) and “The Thing” (1982), but it did its job as well as intended, and it may remind you more of the importance of quarantine. Yes, things have been hard and difficult these days, but, as the heroine of the movie emphasizes, public safety comes first above all else in case of pandemic, and you may be relieved to see that your current risk is smaller than the one shown in the film.