“Surrogate”, An Aussie Horror You Need to See

When we think of Horror movies, Australia does not automatically come to mind.

But to be sure this land down under of Bevvy’s, Koala’s, Kangaroos & the “shrimp on the barbie” moniker has produced countless horror films that have gained international recognition such as Peter Weirs “Picnic at Hanging rock” (1975) and Phillip Noyce’s “Dead Calm” (1989) which introduced the world to Nicole Kidman. We also have Sean Byrne’s brutal revenge tale in “The Loved Ones” (2009) and the most widely known being Greg McLeans 2005 outback horror “Wolf Creek” starring Kestie Morassi, who returns to the genre that helped launch her career in David Willing’s debut feature, paranormal horror Surrogate, that had its smashing World Premiere a year ago this week at the famed Art Deco inspired Sun Theatre in Yarraville, Melbourne.

When I say smashing, I am not being overdramatic but literal. Surrogate opened to a sold out premier and went on to have further sold out screenings, becoming the Sun Theatre’s number one film for two weeks in a row and completely obliterating box office takings, selling more tickets at the time than the major Hollywood studio releases, The Batman & Morbius combined. It then went onto a similar outstanding run at the Thornbury Picture House and other regional cinema’s in Victoria. Further, it was also received well overseas with fantastic reviews from media outlets such as L.A. Times, Reel Review and Midwest Journal to name a few. Which is a phenomenal achievement for a locally produced horror film.

Surrogate was co-written by Director David Willing and Beth King. Executive producer Konfir Kabo of Black Spade Productions financed the film which was also produced by Vikki Blinks and David Willing along with co-producer Alice Chaston. Morassi is also credited as an executive producer. We see her joined by an equally strong cast with fellow actors such as Jane Badler (V), Louise Siverson (Prisoner), Darcy Kent (Neighbours) and Jennifer Vuletic (Howling III).

Morassi plays Natalie Paxton, a single mother and nurse who falls mysteriously ill and is rushed to hospital suffering massive internal bleeding due to an apparent phantom pregnancy after an encounter with a visibly disturbed and mentally ill woman. A frightening story begins to unfold as a seemingly malignant spectre (Ellie Tevelis) tethers itself to Natalie’s daughter Rose (Taysha Farrugia) and to the lives of their small but close knit family. Over the course of the movie we watch an intriguing mystery, with scenes going from one intensity to another as Natalie, who is a rational and practical woman slowly comes to terms with the fact that her family is being haunted by a supernatural tormentor and then embarks on a journey to stop her family from being utterly destroyed with the help of Ava Akard (Ellie Stewert), a girl with a dangerous gift.

The movie is genuinely creepy with a narrative that is a slow burn supported by solid performances by the cast, especially the child actors. Surrogate has beautiful cinematography. It is distinctly Australian, but without “Australiana” on its sleeve. It does not rely on cheap tricks, un-necessary jump scares or any of the overdone tropes and trappings that we are used to seeing in horror movies lately. Those with a keen eye, will definitely see inspirations from films such as The Ring, The Others, The Exorcist and so on, but it does not take away from the movie. It’s more of a wink and a nod to the audience from Willing.

The attention to details and passion behind the scenes are remarkably evident as Surrogate delivers the most unique and original take on a séance that I have ever seen on film. The exceptional work of local makeup and special effects artist Renee Schulz, who has since gone on to win the Rome International Movie Award for “Best SPFX” for Wanderer, shines throughout Surrogate, especially with the gut-wrenching blood rush scene that allegedly made crew members on set physically sick. 

Adding to the visceral experience and pulling it all together is the score by Mark Buys (Blood Hell, Blood Vessel) who also adds his own wink to the audience via a familiar nod to horror film scores of the 70’s such as Goblins, Suspiria or Dawn of the Dead soundtracks and making it his own. His compositions feature a nice array of percussions, low woodwinds, strings and a variety of aural textures to give us a moody, suspenseful and haunting soundtrack.

Surrogate takes us on a ride that builds up beautifully and doesn’t give anything away until the end and I think that going forward, Hollywood isn’t the only one with a story to tell. The land down under has a growing indie horror scene and lots of talented and passionate people who are more than capable to tell those stories on screen.

Official rating: 5/5

Watch Surrogate here (Amazon UK): https://amzn.to/3Dew3q5

Amazon USA https://amzn.to/3KYf1Pa

Free on TubiTV https://bit.ly/3SvzGwP

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