Saturday, 1 February 2014

Review - Surrogates (2009 - Dir. Jonathan Mostow)

After David Warbeck's pretty feeble attempt at goal with The Ark of the Sun God, Radha Mitchell goes on the counter offensive with Surrogates. Now, I hadn't heard of this one when it came up on my Random-Film-Selector but it's got Radha Mitchell in it (obviously) and Bruce Willis who's normally good for entertainment value. So let's give it a whirl.

Willis stars as Greer, a hard-nosed FBI agent on the trail of, well, not much really. There's not that much crime going on. Pretty much everyone is living their life through a surrogate, a robot that is linked to them via a mind control device. So they get to lie in the comfort of their own homes, while their surrogate goes out into the world and does their job, cuts the lawn and irons their pants. This is all experienced by the user but in a safe environment. If the surrogate is destroyed in a hilarious meat grinder incident then a new one is purchased and Bob's your uncle. Crime is at an all time low until two surrogates are found with their eyes fried. Worryingly their users are dead too. Ooh la la. Greer, with his partner Peters (Radha Mitchell), gets on the case sharpish.

Recently I reviewed Loups=Garous and ranted about mobile phones a bit. I was rather happy that a film had come along that agreed with my moderately extreme views. Then along comes another. Surrogates is a thinly veiled attempt at having a dig at technology in general, mobiles, Facebook etc. Basically, it posits the view that a large proportion of people live their life vicariously through technology and rarely connect in real-life with other people. At one point Greer (as himself rather than his surrogate) suggests to his wife's surrogate that they should have a holiday. Without their surrogates. She disagrees and thinks he's an idiot. Substitute a mobile phone with internet access for surrogate and you get a situation that has probably been played out in quite a few homes. 

The point at which I deviate from the film is in a question that it poses: if you could destroy all surrogates, would you? The film has its own answer but I think that technology addiction is not the real problem, just a symptom, and by destroying them the underlying problem would still be present. Another symptom is the hell-hole Starbucks. Not just the hell-hole Starbucks, I'm using them as a representative of high-priced luxury items (Hollister goods, Minis and Marks and Spencer ready made mash would also fit into this category). As for what I consider to be the real problem, well in true mathematician style I've given you a couple of clues and now I'm going to let you try to work that out for yourself. Anyway, I digress.

So Surrogates hates mobiles and Facebook, but what else has it got going for it? Surprisingly, not much. Willis spends half of the film as an unemotional surrogate and when he finally emerges as his human self, he's still not at his charismatic best. Mitchell is treated even worse. She's a surrogate for the entire film apart from a tiny shot of her as a human. She's completely wasted. Not good for her FA Cup chances.

Just as the acting performances feel lifeless and plasticky, the visuals are equally as unnerving. If you imagine watching a film almost entirely set in the uncanny valley then Surrogates comes pretty close. I was creeped out for the most part by the surrogates with their airbrushed perfect skin. It's not a pleasant film to watch. When Willis finally gets his proper stubble and slightly craggy appearance out, it's a breath of fresh air. Also the action sequences where the surrogates leap about like superheroes look so fake that they're laughable.

Maybe the whole point of Surrogates is that this vision of the future is unnerving, yet entirely possible. It still doesn't make it a good film to watch. I though David Warbeck had fluffed it, only get a 3/10 rating for his effort in the FA Cup of Actors but he's still in the fight. In fact, he faces a replay with Radha Mitchell after the rest of the first round matches.

If you like this you could also try:
Loups=Garous, I, Robot.

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