A fictional European King (Jim Carter’s voice) wants to “usher in a new era of peace”. Monsters, in fantasy films, have their way of ruining that peace. So the King hires either admirals (Dan Stevens) or monster hunters like Captain Crow (Jared Harris, delivering great voice acting here by the way) to eradicate these monsters. Crow is the more bellicose part of the King’s payroll. So Jacob Holland (Karl Urban), Crow’s future successor, cuts a deal with the King. If Jacob and Crow find the sea’s biggest monster, the Red Bluster, the ship gets to live another day. However, if the admirals get to it first, the King can scrap Crow’s ship the Inevitable.
The Inevitable has a hard time hunting the Bluster already, despite Crow and Jacob getting help for their first mate Sahar Sharpe (Marianne Jean-Baptiste). And that job gets harder because of an orphan, Maisie (Zaris-Angel Hator). Maisie sneaks herself into the ship because she wants to be a hunter too. That’s the basic premise of Chris Williams’ The Sea Beast, which has equal footing in the land of reality as it does the sea of fantasy. For instance, most of the names are English, with Jacob Holland’s being the kind of exception. What makes the film less English is the King’s castle which looks very Winter Palace-y.
The Sea Beast uses pirate iconography for the monster hunters, giving both some moral ambiguity. I was waiting for the film to become more interesting. And yes, it does get more interesting when the Bluster separates Jacob and Maisie. The bluster then takes them to an island with all creatures big and small, good and bad. Children and overgrown children watch these films for character design. And the film’s middle part makes me wish that it stays on that island and solving all of its conflicts in that exotic place. Although in fairness, the island feels like a stronger presence in the film because of the time it spends with the Bluster, which Maisie calls Red.
The Sea Beast also shows a smaller fantastical amphibious creature that Maisie calls Blue. There’s a lot of Blue in the film, a creature living within an interesting and complex colour scheme. Blue is the kind of cute creature that balances out the ugliness of the adult world that Maisie and Jacob eventually must face. As it turns out, Maisie and Jacob grow to love Red and Blue, and their new worldview comes into conflict with the human world. A world with admirals, monster hunters, and royals who still hold on to their anti-monster prejudices. Human characters who feel empathy with monsters is as old as the fantasy genre itself. But this retelling doesn’t feel preachy and instead, its current air feels refreshing.
Watch The Sea Beast on Netflix.