What scares you? It's the weekend before Halloween and I know y'all been watching some horror movies and hopefully getting yourselves good and spooked -- I've been reviewing a bunch for Brooklyn Horror Fest and I've seen some boot-quaking stuff and been thinking about it myself; just what does it. I personally trend towards the practical -- the things that scare me are Earth-bound, they are strangers showing up in my room in the middle of the night or they are creepy-crawly things, animals and insects. (As far as under-appreciated examples of this sort the played-straight bear attack in 2014's Backcountry remains one of the most viscerally horrifying things I have ever watched on-screen.)
The spot where the practical meets the fantastical, the gateway for atheists such as myself into a more theoretical sphere of scares, would of course be madness, insanity -- I love surrealism for just this reason, and can easily buy into tales of brains leading themselves down the wrong path; what is life but one brain heading down wrong paths, over and over and over again? Sometimes it's harder than others to find your way back to the main one and you get stuck, in the thickets of strangeness, and all the symbols are upside down. I get that scare, deep inside. I can jump and gee-whiz at a good ghost story, but the chills come from the moment the characters lose their heads, not the yawning transparencies of an afterlife I don't believe in.
The best bits of Sea Fever, which just screened at Brooklyn Horror last night, lean into both these sides of my personal demands -- it's a story about a young scientist (Hermione Corfield) who heads out into uncharted waters with a ragtag group of sea-farers (they're always ragtag dontcha know) and discovers both the mortifyingly real-feeling sort of horror of a weird but palpable sea mutation (it shimmers and it glows, as well as barfing green poisons) as well as the madness that mankind finds trapped among this black floating nowhere.
Honestly the be all beyond all when it comes to creeping me out is the "sea bug" variety -- I refuse to eat shellfish, I find lobsters and crabs and shrimp deeply horrifying, always have. So Sea Fever was already keying in to my own neuroses from the start, until I realized at about film's mid-point that I was shifting in my seat and scratching at my skin like a bit of an undone maniac. It really and truly managed to get under my skin.
This is also the door that Robert Eggers' The Lighthouse walked through to get to the meat of me, but Sea Fever's nothing that ambitious and weird -- it feels more like a lost little gem from the late 1990s -- perhaps that's just the last time we made movies like this, but it reminded me of The Relic or Deep Blue Sea, although it's more serious-minded and less prone to explosion; Sea Fever just has that quality of a mid-budget film with a cast of recognizable-ish actors (the ship captains are played by Dougray Scott and Connie Nielson) trying to stave off an existentially squicky threat. It's pretty gosh darn low-key effective.