Blue illuminates a man’s dark mouth, the glow of his smartphone screen rendering him in something approaching chiaroscuro. This rare moment of baroque portraiture, just right for such a lush and ambitious film, upends both narrative and aesthetic convention. Surreal and wordlessly unsettling, Eduardo Williams’ globe-crossing feature The Human Surge is intimate and pleasurably inscrutable.
People talk, but subtitles relay the words, which are often whispered so softly it’s as though they’re not for the viewer’s ears. The camera dives into an anthill and stays so still, so long, that the clicking of insect bodies becomes like wind, an everyday sound no longer strange but lovely. A hand with painted nails solders together the innards of a piece of digital technology — maybe a smartphone, its hard, insect-like shell removed — as delicately as if it were giving a manicure. The deep-purple nail polish echoes the color of the room viewed through a webcam nearly an hour earlier, in which young men suck one another for money without apparent pleasure. Williams trusts viewers to draw connections in the visual rhyming to make meaning, to immerse in it all, to submit.
There’s something about screens, about bodies, about disembodied voices and the rush of water, about the fragility of life. Sometimes it’s so fractured that it’s alienating, but resist the urge to turn away. Smartphone and computer screens are a recurring motif, but this demands to be seen in a theater, to have you sit inside it.
Universalizing in its specific details, The Human Surge reaches toward the world, looks at it up close. Is this the same place we’ve always lived? How is it that paying attention could make what’s familiar look so strange?
The Human Surge
Directed by Eduardo Williams
Distributed by Metrograph Press
Opens March 3, Metrograph