Surfing since as young as he can remember, at the age of 13, Sage is crippled by fear after suffering a wipeout on a huge wave. The wave slammed him to the bottom and held him pinned there ...
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Surfing since as young as he can remember, at the age of 13, Sage is crippled by fear after suffering a wipeout on a huge wave. The wave slammed him to the bottom and held him pinned there without air until he nearly died. With his whole life still ahead of him yet now paralyzed by fear, Sage no longer surfs the waves. But unable to ignore the mystical and powerful pull of the ocean, he fishes in the surf, and finds more than he bargained for.Written by
We've all met that overzealous dad who is more coach than parent. They use athletics as metaphor to excuse the emotional neglect resulting from vicariously living through their offspring. Their children become surrogates for their own desires; scholarships and sponsorships trump happiness and independence. The "pride" of these groomers always feels self-serving and Douglas Burke is not immune to this phenomena. Quick clarification: Surfer isn't a movie in the traditional sense, rather it's a highlight reel (or mixtape as the kids call it) of Burke's son Sage's progression as a budding surfer. This highlight reel was then inter-spliced with footage that some might mistake as narrative film.
Before treading further into this gorgeous disaster-piece, I must state upfront that I adore this attempt at filmmaking quite nearly as much as I despise it. Don't let the pesky number at the bottom of this page define this hybrid film/promotional reel. The laughter and perplexity that assaults you as the viewer leads to a cerebral whiplash that leaves your head lighter than air. I now know how it feels to chortle to exhaustion, and it rates as a Schedule I drug. Yes, we have a worthy entry into the so-bad-that-it's-good camp of movies, but even then Surfer feels a world apart. Swap the political agenda in Birdemic: Shock and Terror with an equally preachy biblical mysticism; transplant Tommy Wiseau's extraterrestrial method acting into Doug here, and you have all the ingredients to grow a cult following.
Enough qualifications though. We met Sage, a handsome wavy-haired teen, on a boardwalk cutting up squid for bait. He has turned to fishing after a nasty spill on a giant wave which almost cost him his life. This is the Fear so delicately elucidated in the film's subtitle. After a good serving of internal monologue, Sage catches a man on his line, who turns out to be a reincarnation of his deceased father who has been crafted out of a squid and sent from the spirit realm. Stay with me. Sage then sits as his squid dad delivers a shaky sermon on how Fear predates the garden of Eden, how whales cry every time a man fails, and how human blood releases warriors (among other things). Sage listens patiently and lies whenever his spirit daddy asks if he's tracking along.
Throughout the pseudo-biblical lesson, it becomes apparent that pops wants his son to ride the waves again. Sage questions why papa ghost is so fixated on him surfing again, and literally asks "Do you want me to do what you never could do?" This causes a Wiseau freak out from his dad that ends in him barrel rolling back into the sea. Before his departure, Sage's father gives his boy coordinates to a military hospital along with a doctor's name and a needlessly long passcode. I'll let your mind wonder from here, but basically the rest of the film has us loosely following Sage train to face the next big wave and his Fear in the process.
Burke has elicited the Christian sports direct-to-video essence that Facing the Giants spun into a multi-million dollar industry while also marketing his son and select surf equipment manufacturers. I am uncertain to label this as either an achievement or gross misconduct. Whichever it might be, Surfer remains a delight capable of unparalleled torment that is orbited by rupturing laughter. Brilliance shines through some cracks when Burke flexes his poetic voice in two epic recitals; one from a younger dream-version Sage, and another from the poet dad himself. The later rolls off with a beatnik authenticity, begging to be analyzed and decoded. But like Ginsburg or Bukowski before him, Burke's soliloquies are best experienced as a shocking rush of words into one's defenseless face.
A massive one take shot is the greater context for this poetic diversion, and is complete with a multitude of misread lines, although I'm still unsure if the dialogue present bares any resemblance to the script that may or may not have been finished. What results is a product that reeks of freedom. Freedom to improvise, to fail audio syncs, to look into the camera, and to (definitely) film unauthorized extras. Surfer has zero cares in the world, and this attitude pounds you into your seat at moments; at other times it elevates you into the joyride that is a dad making a feature length film to brag about his son's surfing. The continuity errors became my many goofy friends, and the persistent (by persistent I mean over every single second of the run-time) score/one-song soundtrack became the official elevator music for the nine levels of hell. However, this might be the most pleasant descent since "Lisa!" was ringing in my ears.
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