Five hundred years ago Leonardo Da Vinci said that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Simplicity also defines horror, arguably the most difficult cinematic genre. All great horror is rooted in the concept of the chase, which requires three basic ingredients: a unique protagonist, a terrifying antagonist, and immaculate filmmaking craft. Pull off one or two of these elements and you’ve got a smash like It Follows. Hit all three and you’ve got a masterpiece like Halloween or The Thing. While tantalizingly brief, Sea Devil shows all the promise of the latter.
In this startlingly effective horror short, a traditional immigrant story is upended by the arrival of a strange and unexpected guest.
At just under nine minutes including titles, Sea Devil knows how to tell a story that moves. Co-directors Brett Potter and Dean C. Marcial make full use of dramatic irony to wind the audience around their fingers. Vide the remarkably clever choice to subtitle the sea-man’s dialogue, which only the audience, not the characters, can understand. Pair it with a series of shimmering POVs and you’ve got some grating cinematic tension.
Equally effective is the film’s aesthetic design: immaculate photography, great casting, and clever music are accompanied by expertly crafted sound. Note the first time our sea-man is pulled onto the boat: subtle reggae music offscreen is accompanied by a light, haunting drone. It’s a perfect sonic no-man’s-land between the ordinary world and the terrifying one to come.
Michael Haneke has said that what we can hear is far more terrifying than anything we can see, but actor Moise Brutus, who plays the sea-man, gives him a run for his money. He exudes a perfect sense of strangeness, detachment and curiosity, which only adds to the sense of impending doom.
This expert craft didn’t come overnight: Potter is already an established producer, with credits on features like Martha Marcy May Marlene, as well as several Sundance shorts, including 2014’s Jury Prize winner Yearbook. His co-director Marcial is a working editor, with credits including the feature Big Significant Things (SXSW 2014), documentary Fishtail (Tribeca 2014), and Sundance short The Fort. Currently the pair are working on a true crime documentary project in search of the occult and uncanny in the American midwest.