Review by Sean Boelman
Very few filmmakers are able to achieve something that feels fully original anymore, yet experimental filmmaker Eduardo Williams has come awfully close with his newest feature. The Human Surge 3 is undoubtedly one of the most cutting-edge films playing at this year’s TIFF, firmly earning its spot in the Wavelengths section, with a groundbreaking and surprisingly alluring approach that is nothing like you have seen before.
The movie follows different groups of people throughout the world — in Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and Peru — as they drift through the world experiencing it in their own way. This is not a continuation of the 2016 film (and before you ask, no, there is no “second” movie) but more of a spiritual successor. Still, the themes and technique are entirely different, making this perhaps more effective as the B-side to The Human Surge’s A-side, or perhaps even a derivative that somehow feels unique and idiosyncratic.
The film’s structure is incredibly observational and naturalistic, weaving between its characters and storylines in a way that is incredibly fluid. The feelings that viewers will experience while watching this movie — much like those experienced by its characters — are complex, nuanced, and difficult to explain, but in a way that’s refreshingly challenging.
Williams uses these conversations in a way that almost feels cathartic, voicing the concerns and anxieties that he shares with much of the millennial population While the first film dealt heavily with technology and connection in a way that was alternatingly lyrical and haunting, The Human Surge 3 is much more lyrical and free, the main part standing out as particularly angry being one about the epidemic of pollution that is slowly destroying our world.
Where The Human Surge 3 struggles is the same place its predecessor faltered — and that is giving the audience characters about whom we can legitimately care. Populated primarily with non-actors, the cast and its dynamics succeed in feeling incredibly lived in. However, the movie holds the viewer at a distance (almost voyeuristically so) in a way that makes it feel like we are observing strange phenomena rather than actual reality.
However, from the film’s technical approach, it’s clear that Williams wants to capture something that exists in a state that is somewhere between grounded and dream-like — and for the most part, he succeeds. It’s this frequent juxtaposition that makes the movie so provocative, even if the narrative and themes are occasionally a bit too meandering and ambiguous for its own good.
The Human Surge 3 is arguably one of the most formally unconventional films of the century, if not all time. The cinematography by Victoria Pereda was shot on a 360-degree camera — the likes of which would be used for a VR project — and then imposed onto the two-dimensional plane that is a cinema screen. The result is equal parts disorienting and transfixing, with some scenes falling into both extremes of nauseating and intoxicating.
The Human Surge 3 is a challenging film in form, even if it isn’t as provocative in content or function. Eduardo Williams is one of this generation’s most boundary-pushing filmmakers, and his latest work shows that he will only continue to innovate with the cinematic medium in more new and exciting ways.
The Human Surge 3 is screening at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival, which runs September 7-17 in Toronto, Canada.