January 26, 2020
The tension builds repeatedly in Aneil Karia’s fierce, atmospheric tale of a security officer who strides out on a surreal odyssey after losing his job
Surge review – Ben Whishaw pounds the streets in gripping psychodrama
After some much-admired short films, including the excellent Bafta-nominated Work, British film-maker Aneil Karia now makes a vehement, if flawed feature debut at the Sundance film festival. It’s a fierce, claustrophobic and atmospheric character study with a big pressure-cooker performance from Ben Whishaw playing Joseph, a young airport security officer who succumbs to a breakdown due to loneliness, insomnia and unresolved feelings for his co-worker Lily (Jasmine Jobson). Joseph loses it big time at work, walks off the job and, with his brain almost audibly pulsing with suppressed craziness, strides through the clamorous, uncaring London streets on an odyssey of chaos and confrontation. This involves many surreally disturbing scenes with total strangers – but also with Lily and his equally unhappy mum and dad (Ellie Haddington and Ian Gelder), encounters that involve unexpected moments of tenderness.
The movie’s title is well chosen. Almost each individual scene – and arguably the film itself – is a surge, an oppressive swelling of the meteorological pressure in Joseph’s head. Each sequence seems to be building, building, building to something, but then, instead of a climax, we enigmatically cut to another scene later and reset for another psycho-emotional surge. It’s a shrewd depiction of the banal day-to-day unhappiness that Joseph lives with. Each body search that Joseph has to do at the security gates involves an unbearable official intimacy with a total stranger, one of whom is clearly disturbed; and, for an awful moment here, Joseph’s own palpable instability is such that the audience can’t be sure which is mad and which is sane.
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