“The Surrogate” delivers on its elevator pitch, a knotty tale of pregnancy, unexpected news and friendships on the brink.
It’s what lurks not so deep beneath the surface that’s even more rewarding. We’re given a snapshot of urban elites that exposes far more than expected. One wonders if the filmmakers realized what they fashioned on film.
We meet Jess (Jasmine Batchelor, outstanding) as she shows a positive home pregnancy test to her friends. It’s not her baby, though. She’s decided to serve as the surrogate for a gay couple, Josh (Chris Perfetti) and Aaron (Sullivan Jones).
The trio are longstanding pals, and they forged an informal agreement surrounding the surrogacy details.
The couple couldn’t be more excited until Jess’ doctor shares some news about the baby. That triggers a series of conversations that grow increasingly taut and unsteady. Jess is a rock on the surface, but she’s not sure what she’ll do next.
The couple isn’t, either.
The main characters in “The Surrogate” are kind to a fault. Patient. Sweet. Informed. Well read … with a smattering of virtue signaling thrown into the mix. You’d want them as your neighbors, your co-workers, maybe even your friends.
Yet a coldness exists between them, as if all the niceties are but a disguise, a ruse. That lack of empathy grows during the film, extending to even minor characters who enter, then abruptly exit, their orbit. Heaven help you if you disagree with something they say or think.
Writer/director Jeremy Hersh’s filming style is naturalistic, nearly to a fault. We hear pleasantries exchanged, awkward silences and uneasy goodbyes. It’s how most human interactions unfold.
Ho hum, right?
What starts as an annoying tic reveals itself before too long. We need to see these moments to get a sense of the players. Those asides speak as loudly as the characters do, revealing even more.
One critical scene, a battle royal conducted with composure, not screams, has each of the players retreating to their respective identities. A gay man. A black woman. They wave their victimhood status around even though they’re among friends.
Or are they?
“A performance of stunning psychological insight and raw feeling from Jasmine Batchelor.” -- Hollywood Reporter
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Jess, she of the nonprofit world, isn’t afraid to swoop down and strike for a moral cause. That makes her pregnancy even more complicated, and fascinating. She’s just as firm when dressing down strangers, like when she scolds a restaurant owner about the site’s lack of wheelchair accessibility.
Jess is technically right, and she could be doing the restaurant a favor by pointing it out. So why is she so filled with unearned virtue during the exchange?
It’s a minor scenes with major ramifications.
The film’s final act is delivered with a velvet glove, but make no mistake. It’s as startling as any horror movie sequence.
“The Surrogate” epitomizes the no-budget, big vision storytelling that indie films strive to achieve yet rarely do. Good luck getting these events, and characters, out of your head.
HiT or Miss: “The Surrogate” is a searing expose on urban living, abortion and the masks we were in public and private.