The recent “Underwater” practically showed the lines where it traced from the “Alien” blueprint. And it’s hardly alone.
More than a few movies tried, and miserably failed, to duplicate the 1979 film’s greatness. Call “Sea Fever” the anti “Alien” ripoff, and kudos for that.
Sure, “Sea Fever” and “Underwater” evoke similar themes, but the former serves up superior chills. Even better? No jump scares or melodramatic music cues anywhere in sight.
Then again, there’s no big “moment” you’ll remember days or weeks later in “Sea Fever.” It’s a humble, intelligent film that just so happens to resemble genre conventions.
A marine biology student (Hermione Corfield, “Rust Creek”) who “vants to be alone,” Greta Garbo style, is crammed onto a fishing trawler bound for the Atlantic Ocean.
Siobhan is more than a fish out of water on the boat, but her skills come in handy after they run afoul of a gooey red mass. The mysterious substance ensnares the boat, and that’s just part of the problem.
Could Siobhan’s skill set come in handy, or will her inability to work well with others doom them all?
— Deadline Hollywood (@DEADLINE) April 1, 2020
Like “Alien,” “Sea Fever” puts plenty of emphasis on the crew members, each of whom have a distinct shape and presence. So, too, does our heroine. It’s clear she’s a potential Survivor Girl, but she’s no Mary Sue. She’s distant, odd even, the kind who would rather bury her nose in a biology text book than make nice with her new “friends.”
In fact, the story’s one palpable flaw is how effortlessly she flirts with a cast member (Jack Hickey).
Otherwise, “Sea Fever” is all modest pleasures, a rigorously crafted tale that never comes close to 11. The unknown threat isn’t played for cheap theatrics. It’s a genuine mystery as to where it came from, how it stalled the ship and what, if anything, can be done to fight it.
The special effects here prove humble but effective. Best of all, the story feels fresh even while it borrows from any number of previous thrillers. That’s particularly true regarding the couple behind the mission, played with integrity by Connie Nielsen and Dougray Scott.
Writer/director Neasa Hardiman keeps the tone sober and raw, and at times you just wish for a grindhouse reveal or shock. The story is solid, not spectacular, and the characters fall under the same descriptors.
Still, the way Hardiman upends some genre tropes is welcome, and then some. For example, the story spins the calcified trope of the amoral scientist who doubles as a hiss-worthy villain from the opening scene. Siobhan could be on the spectrum, or her brainy exterior might be hiding something more sinister and selfish.
We just don’t know.
Restraint and intellect are the driving forces behind this sea saga, two elements in short supply in “Alien” clones.
HiT or Miss: This sci-fi adventure refuses to embrace genre norms, and that’s mostly good news.