“There is no such thing as monsters.” These are the words parents often use to reassure their children that there is nothing to be afraid of when the lights go out. Of course, that is not necessarily true, with all matter of human monsters wandering the streets at any given time.
For single mother Natalie (Kestie Morassi), that danger has penetrated her walls. It is a macabre spirit: dangerous, unseeing, and one with its eyes on her daughter Taysha (Rose Paxton). Natalie also feels the wrath of this vengeful ghost, dealing with injuries both physical and psychological. One scene early in Surrogate will test the boundaries of those who can’t stomach the sight of blood.
From The Exorcist to Insidious, the “child in peril” supernatural movie has been a permanent fixture in the horror genre. Surrogate works so well because it takes its time to build its characters, story, stakes, and scares. The best supernatural horrors are just as effective as dramas, since they are stories about characters in the land of the living, as much as the spirits that haunt them. Director David Willing, who co-wrote Surrogate with Beth King, takes this knowledge and creates a genuinely creepy ghost story that delves into the depths of the love a mother has for her child.
Morassi, whose previously starred in the Wolf Creek streaming series, inhabits Natalie with raw emotion as she portrays the psychological and physical effects of a haunting by a macabre spirit.
Natalie’s rational mind struggles to comprehend the horror that has befallen her family, until she gives in to an alternate approach. Cue what is a contender for scariest scene of the year, as a child medium named Ava (Ellie Stewart) attempts to communicate with the spirit in a set-up reminiscent of the Three Kings paranormal game.
With mirrors placed on both sides and a flickering candle in the center, Ava – whose pink dress wonderfully clashes with the grim grey aesthetic – calls forth the spirit to introduce itself, only to find that this petrifying poltergeist doesn’t like to play games. It is a compellingly creepy sequence that Willing plays out with the right amount of restraint and pacing.
As Surrogate delves into murder mystery territory, the films palpable dread wanes. Yet, so strong is Willing’s handle of his material and Morassi’s compelling lead performance, that the after-effects are sure to haunt you long after the credits roll.