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Marine Biology student Siobhán (Hermione Colfield) accepts a posting to head out to sea with the crew of an Irish fishing trawler. After an innocuous beginning to their voyage, everything changes when a large, mysterious creature grabs on to their boat, preventing any further movement. From the moment the unlucky Siobhán is sent to investigate, events start to spiral out of control. Not everyone will make it back to dry land alive…

For a time, Sea Fever is good at gradually upping the tension. It starts when the crew notice that Siobhán has red hair: an ominous omen for sea-fearing folk. Whilst no one is out-and-out hostile towards her, at least at first, it’s clear they don’t want her there; indeed, she’s only on board in the first place because her university offered the indigent captain a significant sum of money. Siobhán’s difficult demeanour – she’s coded as autistic – makes it even harder for them to warm to her. Throw in the claustrophobia inherent in such a situation, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

And that’s all before the enormous bioluminescent sea monster attaches itself to their boat. Then there are a couple of instances of genuinely distressing body horror (the worst is a graphic eye explosion). Considering the low budget, the specials effect are – on the whole – rather good; there are just a few instances of ropy CGI. Ninety percent of the action occurs on a single set, but thanks to some smart direction and well-designed lighting, Sea Fever remains visually interesting. Overall, first-time feature director Neasa Hardiman corrals the technical elements of her film with an accomplished grace.

It is in the second half of Sea Fever, as the malignant organisms begin to tear their way through the unfortunate crew, that the carefully constructed world of tension and claustrophobia that Hardiman created comes apart at the seams. After a deliberate, slow creep of an opening, everything happens all at once. Because there has been more attention paid to building suspense than building character – only Siobhán gets any kind of fleshing out, and even that happens along archetypal lines – it’s hard to be too upset when the crew start getting killed off. The cast boasts actors like Dougray Scott and Connie Nielsen, but, playing characters who never become anything more than sketches, their talents are completely wasted. Even if we did get to know them well enough to care about their fates, the manic rush of death in the final act doesn’t leave any space to feel anything anyway.

By the time Sea Fever flounders towards its underwhelming finale – you have to roll your eyes when one character is simply dispatched in a rowboat, never to be seen or mentioned again – the promise Hardiman’s movie showed in its early stages seems like an all too distant memory.

★★★

Signature Entertainment presents Sea Fever on Blu-ray & Digital HD from 24 April 2020

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