Written by: Matt Patti | September 1st, 2022
Surrogate (David Willing, 2022) 2½ out of 4 stars.
Australian horror film Surrogate borrows inspiration from earlier examples of the genre but creates a unique identity through its own particular details. The film is advertised in a very specific way through its marketing materials. After watching it, I understand why. The synopsis is written in an intentionally vague manner to not give away too much. Not knowing exactly what is happening makes for a better viewing experience, so I will in turn also not give away too much about the plot.
Surrogate centers around single mother Natalie Paxton (Kestie Morassi, Maggie Astoni on the Australian soap opera Home and Away). As a nurse, she spends many late nights away from home. One night, after a late shift, Natalie sees a disheveled, frantic woman outside the doctor’s office. The woman is in a panic and demands to be let in. Natalie informs her that the office is closed and drives home. After that night, Natalie falls strangely ill. Her daughter, Rose (Taysha Farrugia), also begins to complain about someone pinching her in bed at night and is terrified to go to her room. Other strange incidents begin to occur, and Natalie starts to question if recent happenings have anything to do with that woman she saw. Natalie works tirelessly to get to the bottom of it all. Can she figure out the mystery and protect her daughter and herself?
As I previously stated, there are many elements of Surrogate that seem familiar. It uses many common horror tropes, and the overarching story may be similar to one you’ve seen before. However, there are just enough original facets, and a particularly unique conclusion, for it to stand out from other similar films. The characters also hold the audience’s interest. The main players in the film are good people, and it’s easy to feel sympathetic for Natalie and her daughter Rose. Morassi and Farrugia turn in exceptional performances and there’s a strong mother-daughter dynamic between both that keeps us rooting for them throughout their obstacles.
Director David Wiling, making his feature debut, masterfully builds tension, and there are a good number of very suspenseful scenes that leave viewers on the edge of their seat. Unfortunately, the end result of that suspense, whether it be a jump-scare or unexpected reveal, never seems to match the quality of what was built up beforehand. The “scares” following the long suspenseful sequences simply don’t pay off. Some of them are awkwardly timed or suffer because of bizarre editing choices. The surprises in the film, while somewhat compelling, also don’t quite hit the mark upon their unmasking. It’s disappointing to see such great scenes with real intensity end in a whimper rather than a bang.
Even though it falls short in some areas, Surrogate still has enough fuel in its tank to succeed. The performances and dynamics between the characters are compelling and each character works well in relation to the others. The film’s many mysteries and questions all entice and are able to carry our curiosity throughout the runtime. The conclusion of the film answers most, but not all, the questions in a very satisfying manner. The third act does threaten to derail the film by becoming overly large and a tad convoluted, but it wraps up just in time in an emotional, well-crafted fashion. Overall, Surrogate finds its identity while paying homage to some classics, and balances the two well, making it a welcome addition to the horror family.