“Sebastián Lelio’s The Surprise is an engrossing new gothic thriller that provides Florence Pugh the prospect to show in one among her finest performances in years.”
- Florence Pugh’s commanding efficiency
- Kíla Lord Cassidy’s breakout supporting flip
- An atmospheric, gothic temper
- A repetitive second act
- A number of thinly sketched supporting characters
- A barely rushed finale
In its excellent first scene, The Surprise tells us precisely what it’s. The brand new movie from Disobedience and A Implausible Girl director Sebastián Lelio opens on a modern-day soundstage. “That is the start. The start of a movie referred to as The Surprise,” an unseen girl tells us. “The folks you’re about to fulfill, the characters, imagine of their tales with full devotion. We’re nothing with out tales. And so we invite you to imagine on this one.” By the point Lelio’s digital camera has completed its affected person opening motion, we’re not on a soundstage, however on a Victorian-era ship sure for Eire.
We all know that the ship is just not actual. We all know that the cabin we’re seeing is nothing greater than a set and that the lady on the heart of it’s not an English nurse named Lib Wright, however Florence Pugh, one of the crucial recognizable stars on the planet. The Surprise is aware of that we all know this. It is aware of that we all know the reality of what we’re seeing in the identical approach that we all know that Michael Corleone is just not an actual particular person, however a personality performed by Al Pacino. The Surprise, in different phrases, is aware of that every one tales are lies — scripted movies most of all.
They’re lies that we select, at our personal discretion, to imagine. The movie’s insistence on acknowledging this in its first scene is just not solely a daring, attention-grabbing inventive choice, but it surely proves to be the right opening word for a film that’s about tales and, particularly, the methods during which they’ll save or kill us, relying on which we select to imagine. Some lies, in spite of everything, are deadlier than others.
Primarily based on a 2016 novel of the identical identify by Emma Donoghue, The Surprise follows Pugh’s Lib as she makes her journey to a post-famine Eire so as to participate in a mysterious new job. As soon as she arrives, Pugh’s former wartime nurse is stunned to find that she has not been summoned to deal with a sick affected person, however to look at an area “miracle.” The miracle in query seems to be Anna O’Donnell (Kíla Lord Cassidy), a younger, spiritual woman within the midst of a quick that has been ongoing for months.
Lib’s task is to watch Anna and her household so as to be sure that she is just not secretly being fed or in any approach faking her personal, seemingly ineffective interval of hunger. Regardless of initially shrugging off Anna and her fellow villagers’ claims, although, Lib shortly begins to query each herself and her beliefs after spending a number of days with the O’Donnells. Sadly, Lib’s rising attachment to Anna not solely leads to a number of previous traumas coming again to hang-out her, but additionally places her in direct opposition to the beliefs and strategies of lots of the Irish villagers she’s discovered herself surrounded by.
Over the course of its brisk 103-minute runtime, The Surprise makes use of Lib’s relationship with Cassidy’s Anna to discover themes of trauma, spiritual fanaticism, dying, and rebirth. Whereas the movie often struggles in its second half to iron out the inherently repetitive nature of Lib’s task, The Surprise largely succeeds at remodeling its story of crippling guilt and love into an engrossing and compelling gothic thriller. That’s due in no small half to the work finished by its well-rounded solid and, particularly, its formidable two leads.
Pugh supplies a robust, empathetic anchor to The Surprise as its central nurse. Her character’s intense emotional scars and unwavering want to avoid wasting her sufferers from the horrors of the world additionally give Pugh the prospect to show in one among her strongest performances to this point — if not her finest since 2016’s Girl Macbeth. Reverse her, Cassidy provides a quietly commanding breakout efficiency as Anna, the faith-driven woman who has already discovered herself swept up in a maelstrom of religious and emotional darkness by the point The Surprise begins.
The Netflix movie goes out of its method to visually replicate the duality of despair and hope current in each of its lead performances. Working with cinematographer Ari Wegner, Lelio turns Anna’s attic, the place Pugh’s Lib spends a lot of The Surprise, into an expansive, shadowy house. By typically relying solely on the pale, washed-out mild that pours in by the home windows of the O’Donnells’ house to mild Anna’s attic, Lelio and Wagner are in a position to create frames during which Pugh and Cassidy are standing in each mild and darkness on the identical time.
Outdoors of its central homestead, the pale grey skies and muddy, inexperienced fields of Eire solely assist The Surprise promote its gothic temper. Recurring photos of pricked thumbs and Wegner’s ceaselessly regular, drawn-out digital camera actions additionally create an added sense of dread throughout the movie, one which Lelio additional heightens by filling a few of The Surprise’s quieter moments with looped reprisals of Anna’s each day, whispered prayers.
All of those visible and sonic motifs construct, at the side of the depth of Pugh and Cassidy’s performances, to a 3rd act that’s typically cathartic and terrifying in equal measure. The movie’s final conclusion might, on the floor, appear far too clear for a movie as morally and emotionally murky as The Surprise. Nonetheless, there’s a darkish, bittersweet fact on the coronary heart of The Surprise’s story, one which reminds us that even our most sacred tales should generally be left behind to ensure that new ones to be instructed.
The Surprise premieres Wednesday, November 16 on Netflix.