Seagull (2019) is an oddball revenge story centred on family drama, secrets, and spite. After 8 years of eking out survival on a beach, Rose returns home and the full story of why she lived outside of society for that long is going to cause chaos for a family living with a fair few secrets. Helping her is a strange man in a seagull mask who wants to make sure her return is a violent one.
This is a frequently serene experience, sedated in both visuals as well as plotting. The town is of the lower/false middle class and gives the impression it is fading away from the wider world, with the beaches surrounding it offering a remote strangeness for the small cast of characters it introduces. Jessica Hynes from Spaced is a welcome familiar face, although she does a bit too good of a job being an awkward minor antagonist stoking the familial soap opera drama throughout. The standouts here are Gabrielle Sheppard, playing the role of Rose, who has come back from her isolation and is arguably more deranged than her bird-masked partner. The other is Adam Radcliffe as Jeff. The acting head of the family may even be more unstable than the vengeful pair out to get him, no small feat when one of them is a violent homeless man who never takes off his seagull costume.
There’s little in the way of scares on offer from Seagull, although it drifts into such extreme weirdness it approaches a kind of low-fi folk horror. The British seaside resort town, which seems completely devoid of the tourists these places rely upon to exist, has a perpetual eerie atmosphere to it. Furthermore, the unhinged assailant in a seagull mask, appearing at random to punctuate the sequences of soap opera drama, certainly mixes up the plot in an interesting direction. This isn’t a film too interested in clarity, which is both a plus and a minus. It’s nice, however, that a film is brave enough to not hold your hand through every small detail, but it can also feel like it’s withholding necessary answers at times.
Notably, the crew make excellent use of scouted locations here – somebody was clearly passionately hunting the ideal locations to boost the overall production value. The crew on camera for the B roll also deserves a special mention for a normally overlooked role. They have a great eye for catching the British coast life; whether that’s amusingly capturing seagulls in action, showcasing the urban side of the setting, and to even shooting some beautiful natural scenery on film. There’s almost a bonus documentary included here as a way to tailor the intended atmosphere of the story.
Slow to the point of being painful, the weirdness is the sustained draw here and Seagull (2019) could have done with leaning into being even weirder to help it be more engaging. It’s a curious one, but be warned it’s mainly for those tolerant of a slow British drama considering the movie is pretty low energy as well as light on horror. Be warned that if you come into this one tired, the sleepily-paced surrealism it offers will need a pot of coffee sticking on to help you through it. However, if you quite like the idea of a soap opera being pushed over the edge into seaside folk horror vibes, you should find Seagull a rewarding, ambiguous watch.
We watched Seagull (2019) as part of Grimmfest 2021.
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Luke Greensmith is an Editor at the Grimoire of Horror and an active folklorist as well as working in film across a few roles. While this can cover quite a wide range of things, he’s a dedicated horror fan at heart and pretty involved with horror communities both online and local to him. You can find their folklore work on the Ghost Story Guys Podcast, their own LukeLore podcast, and accompanying the artist Wanda Fraser’s Dark Arts series as well as on the Grimoire of Horror itself.