Nostalgia can be a tricky thing. It often pops up at inconvenient times too. An old song shuffles its way onto your playlist, you find a shoebox full of letters from a forgotten lover, or a childhood friend posts a great #TBT photo on Instagram, and you instantly feel your mind getting transported back to a different time. But imagine if we didn’t have the luxury of nostalgia. Imagine having no cherished memories to recall, and feeling nothing when that old song plays. Director Michael J. Saul’s latest film, The Surface, puts an interesting and emotional twist on this notion.
The Surface portrays a young college man named Evan Jones, played by Australian actor and fashion model Harry Hains. Evan is an orphan who has spent his youth getting shuttled between a seemingly endless list of foster homes and social workers. Now in college, Evan is growing depressed and disenchanted in life, realizing he essentially has no family and no history of his own. His boyfriend Chris (Nicholas McDonald) is just the opposite. Chris comes from a wealthy family who loves and supports him, and he works very hard to build the perfect relationship and make Evan into something he is not.
One afternoon, Evan stops by a local garage sale and discovers an old 8mm film camera. The elderly homeowner sells it to him and tells him to come back in a week to pick up the editing equipment and learn how to edit. Evan happily agrees and takes the camera, only to discover some old family movies remain on one of the film reels. Upon returning to the elderly man’s home, Evan discovers he has passed away and now his son Peter (played by Michael Redford Carney) is living in the home. Evan realizes Peter is one of the two boys on the family movies, and he starts to form a bond with Peter, getting to know the man Peter is today and living vicariously through Peter’s childhood films.
Already an established filmmaker, Michael J. Saul does well to maintain an indie feel with his latest work. Using plenty of handheld camera movements, interesting angles, and natural lighting, the audience gains a voyeuristic feeling during the story. The director also carefully splices in a number of sequences that stylistically match the colors, aberrations, and flickering of 8mm film, delivering a nostalgic feeling that is eerily similar to watching old home movies.
As The Surface unfolds, we see Evan latching on to Peter, or more specifically, Peter’s past. Evan appears, at times, as a hollow person who is grasping for some type of past story, or the memorable childhood that he never had. Actor Harry Hains delights in this role, playing an emotional young man who is discovering the concept of “family” for the very first time…even if it is not his own family or his own story.
Read our interview with Michael J. Saul