‘Surface’ Is A Serviceable Thriller

Posted in Apple TV +, TV, What's Streaming? by - July 29, 2022
‘Surface’ Is A Serviceable Thriller

Apparently, “Woman in Peril” narratives are making a comeback. This subgenre of thriller was huge in the 90s (For reference, see practically any movie Ashley Judd made in that decade). But it had practically disappeared. Instead, films like Gone Girl and A Simple Favour turned the leading ladies of our thrillers into anti-heroes – or even villains – rather than simple victims. However, Apple TV+’s Surface is a return to the old trope. Our heroine is a vulnerable, more-or-less faultless woman who must somehow defeat the sinister forces that wish to harm her. And she’ll probably do it with the help of a man.

As Surface begins, we meet an amnesiac named Sophie (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). Sophie allegedly lost her memory when she attempted to end her life by jumping off a ferry. But why did she want to die by suicide? Sophie can’t remember the answer to that question. Hell, during a night out with her gal pals, she can’t even remember who her friends are or why she once liked them! Basically, Sophie is a naïve five-year-old girl in a hot adult’s body!

The child-free wife of a wealthy San Francisco tech guy (Oliver Mansour Jackson-Cohen, who plays a convincing American), Sophie has ample time to puzzle over the mystery of why she wanted to die. After all, as she explains to her therapist, her life looks like it was perfect. And superficially, it does! Sophie’s husband is handsome and her house is a veritable mansion, with a bathtub so deep it could double as a swimming pool.

Sophie also boasts a closet full of pricy athleisure and a flexible, Rich Lady schedule gives that affords her a million hours a week to go jogging. Why would someone with such a fabulous lifestyle want to die? One plausible answer could be that mental health struggles can affect anyone, even the most fortunate. However, the show suggests the real answer is Sophie didn’t want to end her life at all. And that begs the question, why did she jump off a ferry?

To complicate her recovery, Sophie notices a sexy but unsubtle man following her around SF. Baden (Stephan James) insists Sophie isn’t safe, and that the people closest to her may be the greatest threats to her survival. Should she believe Baden over her husband? It’s tempting, since she literally can’t remember who her husband is or why she fell in love with him. But could Baden have ulterior motives? That question disorients both Sophie and us as the audience, but in a good way – the way you want a thriller to disorient and confuse you! 

Ultimately, Surface isn’t excellent or innovative, but it is watchable. From episode to episode, the show kept me guessing about who was the person who truly wanted to hurt Sophie. It also kept me guessing on what their motives were. While Gugu Mbatha-Raw isn’t given much to do besides walking around all “Born Sexy Yesterday,” she’s a capable enough actress that the trope feels less clichéd than it would in less talented hands. Having said that, if you want to skip this return to “Woman In Peril” narratives, I won’t blame you! Real life is so hard for women and non-binary people these days. I’d rather watch Rosamund Pike screw over her cheating husband than breathlessly hoping Sophie survives her messed up life….

This post was written by
Sarah Sahagian is a feminist writer based in Toronto. Her byline has appeared in such publications as The Washington Post, Refinery29, Elle Canada, Flare, The Toronto Star, and The National Post. She is also the co-founder of The ProfessionElle Society. Sarah holds a master’s degree in Gender Studies from The London School of Economics. You can find her on Twitter, where she posts about parenting, politics, and The Bachelor.
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