Seamour is a lonely old man who lives by himself by the ocean. He seems to have very little else in his life but his one passion: he trains seahorses to do tricks.
He has been trying to train his favorite seahorse to perform a difficult somersault through a hoop. But before Seamour can succeed, he has to face some painful emotions within himself.
Eccentric and full of consistently compelling magic, this richly imaginative short fantasy — directed by Ricardo Bonisoli and Babak Bina, who both co-wrote the film with Rodmon Sevilla — transports viewers deep into the world of a most peculiar character and his equally unique obsession. It weaves a hypnotic spell through its command of atmosphere and images, achieving a singular intriguing, adventurous vision through a primal sense of enchantment.
The story is almost elemental in its storybook-like simplicity, taking time to set up the milieu and character with great attention to detail. Sometimes this can create a lagging pace in films, but the imaginative world-building is often one of the appeals of the fantasy genre and works here to pull viewers along into a mysterious, dreamlike world.
And what a world it is, rich with dark, saturated colors that evoke underwater grottos at night, lighting that resembles a kind of permanent twilight and textures so detailed that you can feel and smell the seaside dampness. The visual language, too, has an almost old-fashioned classicism to it, imbued with flourishes that evoke surrealist and expressionistic film traditions.
Within this world, Seamour bustles in his ramshackle living quarters, which are neglected but for the “training complex,” where he works with seahorses to perform circus-like tricks. Watching Seamour with his small troupe of performing seahorses injects whimsy into the surrealism of the film, thanks to well-executed animation and special effects that bring the little creatures to life.
Viewers will find themselves rooting for the seahorse and its trainer to succeed, thanks in part to a crusty but sympathetic performance by lead actor John R. Taylor. But for success to happen, Seamour will need to overcome the shadows of his past to achieve this stupendous feat.
Fans of visionary filmmakers like Terry Gilliam, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and David Lynch will find much to admire and absorb in “The Seahorse Trainer,” but this film has a more childlike — but never childish — charm, which reflects not just its emotional tenor but Seamour’s journey. Seamour must confront the unhealed sadnesses of his past, an arc that sweeps him into the film’s strange yet indelible conclusion. Viewers may puzzle over it, but it works in the almost fairy tale-like ethos of the storytelling. And, after all, too much logic may break the spell of what turns out to be an enchanting, darkly luminous tale.