“So much of what you consume when you get older is about accommodation. I have less time, less tolerance for bullshit, more interest in good taste, more confidence in my own good judgment.”
– Nick Hornby “Songbook”
Surfer: Teen Confronts Fear is why I don’t trust Film Twitter. I don’t have any particular hatred for them, just a drastic disagreement with their approach to culture. So much of modern entertainment content consumption is about how the consumer doesn’t have time for everything. Yet, they seek out more customization and ala carte options. There is also a hard-set streak in youth culture to seek out things to mock. The kids joke on Ed Wood, Tommy Wiseau and the thousands of YouTube stars trying to make content for an all-consuming angry base.
What makes Surfer: Teen Confronts Fear so different? Well, it’s a Christian film that doesn’t fall into the traps that befall many faith-based films. That didn’t stop outlets such as Vice from trying to kick those same rocks. Yet what is an audience supposed to do with a first film from a guy that looks like a sun-bleached Richard Lewis? Forget about the central casting of his son as the titular Surfer, director Douglas Burke keeps stealing focus for me.
Ever since “The Room” hit theaters, every youthful audience wants to find that next hit of joke material. When this film got baited for them, the same audiences didn’t know to handle it. It’s not a preachy faith-based movie, but it also tip toes around the same kind of theatrics employed by Wiseau. Some of that is from being a first-time director shooting a feature over several years. A lot of that is from having to bait a wider audience into hearing your message.
The lead character dubbed Surfer is having a crisis. After getting wiped out in an incident that could have killed him, the young teenager stays away from the ocean. While he fishes with friends, he feels the pull to return to the waves. That’s when Surfer meets his father who might not be his father. Why is that? Well, that’s because God has resurrected Surfer’s father as a man made of electricity and jellyfish.
Still with me? Good, because Surfer’s dad is alive. He’s being held elsewhere while the military conducts an IED operation near where Surfer is trying to get back into the waves. Surfer’s dad has suffered a stroke and is working his way through catatonia. Want to see how the director/co-star played the scene? Check out the image below.
If you’re already chuckling, I don’t blame you. This film stares you in the eye and shouts its messages at you. In the background squid meat and bizarre title cards dance for the back of the room. What a movie like this does is require you to see past the amateur mistakes, the loose narrative and the easy eye-catching moments. The film’s message remains that any ounce of fear in your body can be turned into courage. Due to playing to a wide audience across many channels, the film tries to include many different age groups and the machismo of the military to find ways to sell it to every man in the audience.
But, placing the weight of such broad efforts rests squarely on a 13 year old and his perceptions. You’re seeing this tale with the wonder that comes from a scared kid who wants to make sense of events that are bigger than him. Even the religious aspects are handled in similar fanfare. Think about how you understood religion as a kid. You knew that your parents either did or didn’t force it on you, but what it meant to them isn’t what it meant to you.
That damn whale scene is what made me stand up and applaud this film. Talking seriously about life and personal choices in front of a dead whale is the kind of thing that should resurrect Bertolt Brecht. Director Burke doesn’t care about your giggles or views during his film. He has a point about what it means to live a well-informed life and he challenges to pay attention at every step of this cinematic journey. These are the kinds of films I desperately search for in a given a year.
Naturally, I consider it to be one of the best films of 2018. I eagerly await what Burke International Pictures offers next.
SURFER©: TEEN CONFRONTS FEAR has been playing theatrical engagements in cities nationally. Upcoming screenings include:
Saturday, September 1st
September 2nd – September 17th
Tuesday, September 4th
Wednesday, September 5th
Every Friday in September
September 7th and September 8th
September 8th, September 15th, and September 22nd
September 13th, September 30th