Monday 27 April 2020

SEA FEVER review

Studying the behaviours of aquatic life, marine biologist Siobhan (Hermione Corfield) boards a small Irish fishing trawler going out to sea in order to examine their catch, but when Skipper Gerard (Dougray Scott) takes the vessel into an exclusion zone, something attaches itself to the boat and begins to force its way through the hull and into their water supply. With the whole crew in danger, Siobhan must work out what is attacking them and how to get rid of it, quickly.

Sea Fever hits you with a sense of impending doom immediately, as the crew take a dislike to Siobhan as she sets foot on the trawler due to her red hair (notoriously bad luck at sea). Only the more rationally minded fisherman Johnny (Jack Hickey) and engineer Omid (Ardalan Esmaili) will give the already timid researcher the time of day, until the skipper ignores an order from the coastguard and the crew end up stranded at sea with no radio to call for help.

Director Neasa Hardiman has primarily worked in television before this, including some high profile dramas like Scott & Bailey and her work on Happy Valley that earned her a BAFTA, before a move to more science fiction, effects heavy fare with Marvel shows The Inhumans and Jessica Jones. Sea Fever is her first produced feature script, and shows a step towards bringing her dramatic and genre work together. Rather than deep diving into special effects bonanza territory in the vein of The Abyss, Sea Fever uses what visual effects it has (including cool looking bio-electric tendrils coming from what's beneath) sparingly, instead relying on its script to create as much tension as possible. Most of these moments come from simple ideas executed well, like a standout scene where Siobhan checks for infection by passing a flashlight over someone's eyeball. It's also here where the film clearly tips its sailor hat to a number of genre classics that have preceded it.

If you put a group of rough and ready characters together (some likeable, most not) in a single location to be attacked by an unknown entity, it would be hard to avoid comparisons to Ridley Scott's Alien and John Carpenter's The Thing. Well, at least Sea Fever is smart enough to know those comparisons are inevitable, and despite hitting a number of similar beats (a visit to another stranded vessel to see the fate of its crew seems like a very clear nod to The Thing, for example) it subverts them enough to never seem like it's a mere imitation. This is an intelligent, scientific sci-fi, and it's been too long since we had one of those.

A strong selling point for Sea Fever is how oddly timely it is, considering the current Covid-19 pandemic it couldn't have possibly predicted. As discussions on board turn to quarantine and the possibility of accidentally infecting others on the mainland, the in-fighting and self-preservation instincts seems very reminiscent of a whole host of broadsheet newspaper think-pieces doing the rounds at the moment. The similarity might have been accidental, but it would be no bad thing if Sea Fever got a little Contagion-style bump whilst people are looking for things to watch in lockdown.

No big budget effects, just inventive twists on classic genre stylings. Sea Fever is a mightily impressive piece of small budget filmmaking, and the perfect example of what can be done with a good script and a knowledgeable writer/director at the helm.


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

Tuesday 7 April 2020


The BFI Flare festival wrapped up last weekend, having moved itself online in the outbreak of Covid-19 and the temporary closure of the host venue of BFI Southbank. This did mean that a lot of the features that were due to have their premieres at the festival (among them Romas Zabarauskas's The Lawyer) are still awaiting their red carpet debuts, but luckily I was able to get a sneak peek at it.

Corporate Lawyer Marius (Eimutis Kvosciauskas) is caught in an existential spin after the death of his father. With a thriving, successful career but a romantic life that consists of paying for an interaction with men online, he's hoping he can find more than a surface level connection with someone. When he meets Ali (Dogac Yildiz) on a pay for pleasure website, the emotionally distant Marius decides to take a leap, travelling to Belgrade in order to meet him, but his plans go awry when Ali opens up about his real life problems. A Syrian national living in a refugee camp, Marius has to decide whether he should put everything he has on the line to help Ali find a way to leave the country.

At the heart of Romas Zabarauskas's latest is a weighty subject matter far beyond what you might expect from our introduction to Marius and his yuppie dinner parties. Things first begin to change for Marius when he discovers that a guest at one of these parties is trans, a fact that has him questioning his complacency towards engaging in the lives of his friends and co-workers. He's been living his life in a manner that brings to mind Michael Fassbender in Shame; full of temporary lovers to appease his sexual appetite that seems to fulfil him at the time, but with no real interpersonal connections. As Marius searches for something deeper he begins to interact with Ali, who will dance and strip for him in exchange for money. As the two hit it off online, Marius travels to meet with Ali in what he expects will be an encounter based on sex, but that Ali hopes will lead to legal advice.

A story told across different countries and different languages (mainly English and Lithuanian), The Lawyer is a real world commentary on the refugee crisis that is affecting many areas of the world, with an emphasis on the dangers homosexual refugees may face when housed in the camps. This is a crucial plot point but is surprisingly not leaned into too heavily, keeping its dramatic moments quite low key. I wouldn't recommend going into this film expecting it to be a tense legal thriller, as it isn't. Despite the film's title of The Lawyer, this is more about the man who bears that job description, and the complex moral dilemma he finds himself in when his meeting with Ali causes him to question his boundaries. Whilst in Belgrade Marius is called upon by Darya, a client and friend to assist with her divorce, something that is not his speciality as a corporate lawyer, but still, a request he is quick to shoot down as a conflict of interest. Could he help her? Sure, but he's not willing to potentially sacrifice a part of himself for her. With Ali, this poses a different quandary for him, and the potential for love, sex and maybe more has him pursuing all options when the human rights specialists give him the cold hard facts.

In what is never a showy role, Eimutis Kvosciauskas is able to flesh Marius out from the icy cold man he begins the film as to something far more rounded, although it does take some time to get there. The focus remains on him, but his best scenes are when he is with Dogac Yildiz's Ali. Together they do share an unconventional, modern love story; kept apart by rules and restrictions that don't always make sense, and that leave them with no option but to stretch their own principles and Marius's view of the law. It's also open to interpretation as to how much Ali is manipulating Marius for his own benefit. There becomes a point when this isn't the case at all, but it's up to the audience to decide where.

The romance is certainly not one you can get swept up in and there is a feeling of restraint and distance between the pair throughout the film. It's not really a legal drama either, leaving most of the potential conflict that would arise from the scenario unexplored, although it's refreshing that director and writer Romas Zabarauskas didn't feel the need to force violence into the script. The Lawyer does leave a lot to ponder on the issues it raises about a refugee crisis, in particular to LGBTQIA refugees stuck in camps, and it's in its favour as a drama that will stick with you that the moral and ethical implications of a legal professional following certain paths are not all resolved when the credits begin to roll.