An uneasy watch that refuses to stop it’s manic, vivid experience until the final few trapped seconds, Aneil Karia’s Surge showcases an exciting new talent in British cinema and a true powerhouse performance from Ben Whishaw, proving once again he is one of his generation’s most versatile actors.
Surge is the story of a lonely man, with no true relationships except for his parents, Joe (Ben Whishaw) works long hours in airport security, blandly scanning belongings and people, unable to connect to anyone in a world that seems just not quite calibrated to his sensibilities.
An increasingly tense visit to his parents to celebrate his birthday reveals some of the reasons behind his unnerved, unsure energy – his father (Ian Gelder) is either openly contemplative towards Joe, or outwardly ignores him, while Ellie Haddington who plays his mother displays a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown, both snipping at Joe and over-mothering him. After possibly the most uncomfortable birthday party scene since Dogtooth — Whishaw explodes, freewheeling his way around Tottenham high street and, in a wholly impulsive moment, robs a bank for the sum of £4.99.
Surge is constantly knotty with an unspoken tension that lingers beneath every line, as Joe teeters on the edge of some sort of breakdown that is seemingly so obvious it hurts that no one else is alert to it. This frenetic energy that Surge carries for its entire run time can easily be compared to the Safdie Brothers’ recent anxiety-inducing Uncut Gems, but Karia manages to move away from these by solely focusing on Joe. The hand-held camera ensures the audience feels every bump and jolt, ever too-quickly turned corner of Joe’s day — running behind him down the high street with the disorientation that plunges the audience in the center of the movement. Whishaw also doesn’t draw too heavily on the various tics of his character, choosing instead the quieter moments to show Joe’s unease during the first act of the film – chewing intently on the edge of a glass until it, like the film, shatters completely.
Despite an excellent performance from Whishaw, Joe can feel like an impenetrable character, hard to be drawn to once the first moment of pure adrenaline has faded into the background. Karia makes up for this with another shot of madness — at which point it, unfortunately, starts to feel slightly repetitive as the film moves from enjoyable to the slightly strange, as Joe continues his rampage around London seemingly untouchable. There are more than a few moments in the plot that ring hollow, moving from realism to an uncanny reality where Joe is able to get away with increasingly unbelievable escapades. Karia, along with co-writers Rita Kalnejais, Rupert Jones crafts an interesting and dynamic entry into recent British cinema, and with Ben Whishaw firing on all cylinders, Surge is a flawed but lively watch.