|Posted by Adam Krause on May 10, 2010 at 1:44 PM|
The terms "student film" and "science fiction" rarely go together.
Being a film school alumnus, I'm well aware of the subject matter and genres normally chosen for student-produced films and trust me, action-infused sci-fi isn't your typical route. But then again, Surface isn't your typical student film.
To be completely honest with you, my desire to see Surface was fueled by something other than my love for viewing the work of up-and-coming filmmakers from Wisconsin. It was to witness with my own eyes how the hell these two kids planned on pulling off such an ambitious premise with such few resources.
This is not a knock against The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh by any means, but don't films like this require billion dollar budgets and mind-blowing special effects to successfully execute? Well, as the creators of Surface proved with convincing authority, those two things can be left out of the equation as long as you have plenty of something else... creativity.
With Surface, the creators decided against the normal, melodramatic plots that are typically present in student films and instead opted for a gritty, post-apocalyptic tale with edge of your seat suspense. The synopsis for Surface is a product of the times and something I could easily see being the backdrop for a mainstream Hollywood production.
The story takes place in a not-so-distant future where the earth's ozone layer has completely broken down and disintegrated, causing the sun's rays to become deadly and the surface of the planet unlivable. Due to the circumstances, the human race is forced to live below ground in self-contained shelters, completely cut off from the rest of the world.
When Radial Shelter 1364's power supply begins failing, it's up to Isaiah and Jacob, two brilliant young men who are appointed the monumental task of saving the lives of the remaining inhabitants, which include Isaiah's wife and unborn child, by venturing up to the surface to fix the power generators on what everyone knows to be a clear-cut kamikaze mission.
I've always thought it was rather unfair to critique a student film because of it being just that, the work of students who are still learning the proper craft of filmmaking. But I can safely say that any doubts that you may encounter after the somewhat shaky start to the film completely dissolve once you reach the film's brilliantly executed climax.
With seamless editing, the last 10 minutes of Surface keeps your emotions fully engaged with what's happening on screen and leads you to a Shyamalan-like ending that sideswipes you off the road you thought the movie was previously traveling down and takes you in a completely different direction.
Matthew Scales, the actor who plays Isaiah (the films main protagonist), initially appears too introverted to play the hero of the film but eventually becomes more comfortable with the role as the story progresses and his performance locks into place. The expression on his face in the closing frames of the film tell you more than any written dialogue could.
But the real star of Surface is without a doubt the film's look and art decoration. The locations chosen for the film, which include the basement of an academic building and an abandoned prison, are perfect for providing a realistic depiction of the dark, cavernous tunnels that make up the ficticious radial shelters.
The film is actually the brainchild of both Mark Mazur and Trent Hilborn, two current students from The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh who both collaborated on the writing, producing, directing and editing of Surface.
Both of their passions for movies and filmmaking is evident throughout the entire running time of Surface. I mean, let's face it, you're not going to be too successful making a short, no-budget sci-fi film unless you know a little something of how the process works and what the audience wants.
Like I said earlier, I initially attended the premier of Surface to see if such an ambitious student film could actually be executed. And not just executed, but executed successfully. The smile that was permanently spread across my face when I left the theater answered that question for me with a resounding "yes" (The fingernail marks my girlfriend left in my left arm were a pretty good indicator as well).
Surface is currently making the festival rounds in Wisconsin. For information on screenings, visit http://surfacethefilm.com/