Surrogate begins with Rose (Taysha Farrugia) celebrating her ninth birthday before going to bed. She asks her mother Natalie (Kestie Morassi, Wolf Creek, Home and Away) if they can check for monsters. Natalie tells her there are no such things, which of course means the girl has more to worry about than a jump scare from her Uncle Will (Darcy Kent, The Flame Wars, Daydreams).
As she’s leaving the now-closed clinic she has an encounter with a woman (Jennifer Vuletic, Howling III, Wentworth) who seems to be mentally ill. She encounters the woman again when she stops for gas, this time having to try and save her after she drinks bleach. After this she suddenly develops symptoms that resemble a pregnancy, even waking up bloody from the waist down as though she had given birth, but there’s no baby to be found.
This brings in Department of Child and Family Services Agent Lauren Balmer (Jane Badler, V, 2047: Virtual Revolution) who, along with Dr. Romero (Brett Cousins, Darklands, The Whistleblower) insist that Natalie was pregnant and has done something terrible with the baby. With the threat of criminal charges and the loss of her daughter hanging over her, Natalie has to find out just what really happened.
“My favourite horror films are great pieces of drama then add the scares, such as Ring, The Others and The Exorcist, all which influenced Surrogate”David Willing
Director David Willing and co-writer Beth King handle all of this quickly and in a matter-of-fact manner that makes Surrogate feel like a medical thriller as much as it does a supernatural horror film. It’s not until she begins to delve into the mystery and something targets her daughter, which only gets Ms. Balmer more convinced that Natalie is guilty, that the film starts to feel like genre fare.
Malcolm Akard (Matthew Crosby, Aya, Certain Women) and his young daughter Ava (Ellie Stewart, Book of the Old Ways) add an interesting edge to the film’s themes of parenthood and family. Ava has psychic powers which her father uses to contact spirits, knowing that they could be evil. Natalie is the one being accused of endangering her daughter, but what about Malcolm exposing Ava to potentially evil spirits? Does he bear any responsibility for what might happen to her if things go wrong?
A lot of Surrogate’s effectiveness comes from the cast’s performances. We know that Natalie is telling the truth and Morassi’s performance keeps us on her side and holds our sympathy. On the other hand, Balder makes her character almost instantly hateable and makes her a good human adversary. And Taysha Farrugia is convincing as the little girl caught in the middle of it all.
On the more visceral side of things, Surrogate doesn’t have many gore or makeup effects but Renee Schulz (Wanderer) makes sure that they deliver as much impact as possible. And, backed by a score from Mark Buys (Bloody Hell, Blood Vessel) they got me to jump more than once.
While not the most original of films, the influence of The Ring and The Grudge are fairly obvious, and the involvement of CPS brings They Live in the Grey to mind, Surrogate is effective. Especially in the second half as it builds to an ending that is, if not fully disturbing, quite unsettling. Even in a field as crowded as the haunted house genre, Surrogate manages to put the phantom in phantom pregnancy and stand out enough to be worth seeing.
Indie Rights will release Surrogate to Amazon TVOD on September 2nd and to Tubi and GoogleTV on September 16th. You can check the director’s website or the film’s Facebook page for more information. You can also check FilmTagger for some suggestions for similar viewing.