BUOYANCY, by writer/director/actor Ryan Surratt, begins unassumingly enough, and indeed continues unassumingly enough up until the exact moment when it becomes anything but unassuming. And what is incredible about this progression is that we’re never really sure when that exact moment is. The tension has a way of sneaking up on you without you really realizing why you feel that way and when you became aware of it. Then you look back and realize there was something wrong all along.
BUOYANCY begins with Jake (Ryan Surratt), a former tough guy with family issues who to all appearances wants a fresh start. As he walks down the street, arguing on the phone with the mother of his child, he discovers a criminal in the process of taking seemingly arbitrary and purposeless liberties with his car (perhaps there’s some grand criminal scheme that involves slashing tires and peeing on cars, I don’t know). When the criminal pulls a knife on Jake, he narrowly escapes when Frank (John Heard), a passing Good Samaritan, scares the criminal off with a gun. Next thing you know, Jake is sharing a drink with Frank on his boat while he waits for a tow truck – all of which is very friendly and above board. The alarm bells really start ringing in the audience’s minds when Frank lets Jake take the boat for a spin and they find themselves in secluded waters – at night.
Much of the uneasiness between Frank and Jake comes directly from the dialogue – which seems unlikely considering how mundane most of it is. But there’s something about the utter banality of the dialogue that makes you feel there is something else behind it, something more sinister. Take the writings of Harold Pinter, for instance, who could write the most ordinary and innocuous dialogue and still somehow convey feelings of tension, manipulation, and betrayal. Oddly enough, it is also Frank’s unmotivated kindness that frightens us as well. Modern society has taught us nothing if not to be skeptical of the kindness of strangers, and Jake initially feels that same wariness. Setting much of the action on a boat in open water is also unsettling and calls to mind the twisted, open-water tension-fest of Roman Polanski’s KNIFE IN THE WATER (1962).
Of course, a great deal of credit is to be afforded to the actors for their chemistry and delivery. Heard and Surratt have completely different energies as actors and as characters – Frank is deliberate, understated, yet gives off a sense of willful restraint, whereas Jake is boisterous, animated, spontaneous. They play off each other perfectly, and it is exactly that difference in energy that supplies much of the tension. Heard is especially good as Frank, who seems to know more than he’s saying or is following some kind of subtle, unknown plan. During his first interaction with Jake, Jake comments that “Karma’s a bitch.” Frank responds simply, “Yeah, it is.” But Heard’s delivery of this potentially throwaway line fills it with mysterious significance. His acknowledgment is so matter of fact, filled with a subtle yet unmistakable irony, his glance at Jake filled with a wry and knowing humor. It is so quick, so understated, so simple, and yet it speaks volumes. This is the moment we realize something is wrong.
Hoping to make amends with his girlfriend and turn his life around, Jake suddenly finds himself in a dangerous situation. Frank, an aging bail-bondsman, comes to Jake's rescue and invites him to relax on his boat as they await help. What ensues is a complicated mix of secrets and lies that threaten to destroy the life of one man and the soul of another. Buoyancy is a thriller, riding the treacherous and unforgiving seas of the ocean of revenge. I hope you know how to swim.