The great German director Werner Herzog said, “Life in the oceans must be… a vast, merciless hell of permanent and immediate danger. So much of a hell that during evolution, some species—including man—crawled, fled onto some small continents of solid land, where the Lessons of Darkness continue.”
The new Irish virus-horror movie Sea Fever takes all of this to heart. And I realize a virus movie might be just a little bit on the nose for some of you, but judging by the fact Contagion continues to be one of the most-watched movies right now, maybe not.
Sea Fever takes us on a fishing boat with a crew of eight people—one of them, our hero, a young biologist who’s studying marine animal behavior. After some poor decisions, they become lost at sea, accosted by some Lovecraftian terror from the deep, after which something of uncertain nature seems to have polluted the boat’s water supply, leading to grotesque results.
Fear of infection is well-worn territory in horror, often serving as a metaphor for social ills, though these days it doesn’t need to be a metaphor for anything. The movie realistically shows the range of reactions to such a threat, from pure self-preservation to concern for the greater good, from cold analysis to manic paranoia. The movie is dark and claustrophobic, never in a hurry, and deftly depicts the fear of an invisible danger that could destroy us precisely because we’re doing what we need to do to survive.
To ask if a horror movie is “scary” is always the wrong question, but I’ll answer it anyway by saying this: I watched Sea Fever Tuesday morning, and by that night I noticed I’d hardly had any water to drink the entire day.