The Human Surge 3 Review: Re-Framing the Borders of Cinema

TIFF 2023

6 mins read

The Human Surge 3
(Argentina/Portugal/Brazil/Netherlands/Taiwan/Hong Kong/Sri Lanka/Peru, 121 min.)
Dir. Eduardo Williams
Programme: Wavelengths (North American Premiere)


If you haven’t seen The Human Surge 2, don’t fret. It simply doesn’t exist. Audiences don’t necessarily need familiarity with Eduardo Williams’ 2016 festival breakout The Human Surge, either, before catching his latest work. However, that would mean missing the thrill of discovery that makes these films such a rush. While thematically and stylistically linked(ish), the films are singular works in their own rights. No storyline carries from one film to next. There isn’t one to bridge, anyway.

If anything, bringing prior knowledge or assumptions to The Human Surge 3 will further upend one’s expectations. If Williams bent the boundaries of cinema in the previous film, he twists them into something entirely new here with a genre-defying, form-breaking, label-resistant, and artistically visionary fear of auteur cinema. There’s simply nothing like it, even in the Human Surge cinematic universe.

The Drama of Daily Life

This go around the world of The Human Surge, Williams again offers loose vignettes with non-actors as the camera follows them verité-style in their environments. Everyday life intersects with the story. Unscripted elements blur imperceptibly with scenes performed to the letter.

Williams ups the ante in this immersive experience by shooting the drama with a camera intended for virtual reality. The image, shot for a 360° field, appears stitched and flattened to adapt to the cinema’s wide-screen plain. One constantly plays detective in this active viewing experience. One’s eyes dart around the frame, searching for speakers as the retrofitted camera wanders around the dramatic field at its own rhythm. Simply let the story wash over you, though, and settle in to the film’s enigmatic groove. Thanks to the fidelity sound and wireless mics, one’s eyes don’t necessarily need to locate the key players. More often than not, the action in the background (or is it the foreground?) is more interesting than the conversation.

It’s funny, too, to watch the passersby gawk at the camera. The strange contraption appears late in the film when one character sends it careening down a mountainside. One gets the sense of the bulky package (extra bulbous for protection) that Williams carries on his back to capture the action from a first person point of view.

Immersed in Their Environments

The Human Surge 3 appropriates elements of virtual reality in form and style. Williams keeps the camera on a swivel, panning the full panoramas of streets and countrysides. Few films let one feel so attune to the characters’ surroundings.  It affords a sense of presence, being with the gang of queer misfits in Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and Peru who fuel the film’s story. Fluidity of gender complements the film’s own malleability and contemporary sensibility for defying categorization.

Stylistically, the suture effect of the malleable 360° cinema cinematography creates off-kilter rifts in the canvas. Characters fall into the cracks of the visual plain, dissolving into jittery pixilation and shattering the line between the real and unreal. The aesthetic creates a deft interplay with the arbitrary nature of borders in the age of human flow.

Border Crossings

Unlike the first Human Surge, which has clear breaks in the story and changes characters when the action or lack thereof shifts locals, Surge 3 sees its merry band of misfits travel from a village in Sri Lanka to the noodle stands of Taiwan and to the tranquil waters of the Amazon. Williams evokes themes of migration and mobility. Taxed with a globetrotting shoot that encountered its own challenges with border crossings, the film dissolves these borders, moving to one locale from another with no narrative prompts. Few films are so enigmatically disorienting.

Williams saves the biggest twist for the grand finale. The camera rolls along a mountaintop trail as the characters make their ascent. They run along the hillside as the rocky terrain warps jarringly within the camera’s wonky frame. At some point, the horizon shifts. Characters no longer walk tethered to the Earth. They float! They fly! By this point, Williams shatters all rules of cinema so defying gravity is simply another tool in his arsenal. The most WTF movie since the first Human Surge and easily the most formally and artistically daring work at this year’s Toronto intentional film festival, The Human Surge 3 is one of the coolest films you’ll ever experience.

The Human Surge 3 premiered at TIFF 2023.

Get more coverage from this year’s festival here.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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