Adapted from the Royal Court play “Outside of Heaven,” Seamonsters marks the feature debut of director Julian Kerridge, a graduate of the London School of Film. The screenplay was adapted for the screen by Kerridge and Martin Sadofski (who wrote the play). It recently played in the Narrative Feature Competition at the 18th annual Austin Film Festival. The film gives a glimpse in to the daily lives of a group of young adults living in an English seaside town, none of whom have a clear direction in life. Sam (Jack McMullen) and Kieran (Reece Noi) are best friends. Moony (Georgia Henshaw) is a waitress at the local cafe and Kieran’s girlfriend. Lori (Leila Mimmack) is a traveler who lives in a gypsy camp outside of town.
It’s clear from the start that Kieran and Sam’s long-standing friendship is on the rocks. The opening scene sees Kieran leaving Sam stranded on the beach in the middle of the night with the tide about to roll in. They seem to be best mates out of habit rather than anything else at this point in their lives. Kieran fancies himself a ladies man, while Sam is timid and less confident in his abilities to have a relationship. Kieran clearly enjoys playing on Sam’s weaknesses, even telling embarrassing and, presumably, private stories to Moony. The boys meet Lori while they are selling worms one day in her makeshift traveler camp. Sam is immediately smitten, and the two are quickly seeing one another on a regular basis. What their relationship is, however, is unclear to both Sam and the audience. Lori is clearly a girl with a few secrets who always has her guard up. Kieran, for reasons which can only be inferred, decides to interfere in this budding friendship. Moony, meanwhile, has been testing out all kinds of new recipes on her boss, Geoffrey (Andrew Knott), at the cafe and decides that she wants to pursue culinary school in London. Once Moony and Kieran have left for the big city, Sam begins to uncover things which take his life in an unforeseen direction.
The screenplay manages a smooth transition from play to film, avoiding the staginess from which many such adaptations suffer. The one area where the screenplay suffers is the underwritten motivation for the pivotal action which closes act one. Reasons are given, but they feel thin and, as played out, somewhat contrived. I haven’t seen or read the original play, so I can’t say if this is a symptom of something being lost in the transfer of mediums. Where the screenplay truly triumphs, however, is in its deft characterization of both the leads and supporting roles. Aside from the main action of the plot, there are asides with minor characters woven in with the four protagonists. These peripheral figures make for an enriching and complete view of a small community. The scenes between Moony and Geoffrey, in particular, serve as a delightful bit of levity in the midst of some dire situations. Moony, at first, seems like she’s only there to serve as comic relief. However, she becomes more central to the story in the second half of the film, revealing a wry wit and sense of self-awareness. At one point, she bluntly tells Sam: “I’m not very bright, you know. I thought you’d figured that out by now.” When Sam kindly refutes this, she replies candidly: “No, I’m not. I just hide it well by asking lots of questions.”
The young leads all acquit themselves well. Noi makes for quite a snake in the grass, weaving deftly between Kieran’s charming smile and hot temper. McMullen works well as the shy and gentle polar opposite without becoming bland. The two young actors succeed in walking a fine tightrope of believability; conveying to the audience that the characters are old friends at a time when their relationship is in a state of flux. Henshaw brings light and energy to Moony, while Mimmack manages to convey Lori’s wounded soul even in the midst of her more carefree moments. Knott, a brilliant character actor, plays Geoffrey with a twinkle in the eye and perfectly dry comedic timing.
While at times disjointed, Seamonsters is a masterful achievement as a character study. At turns playful, melancholy, and captivating, the film effectively pulls the audience in and instantly makes it feel as though it has known this place and these people for many years. Those in the market for a solid drama that will make them both think and feel will not be disappointed by this import.