It’s an ordinary day at London’s Stansted airport. The camera lingers above the bustling crowd and, as if at random, zooms in on security guard Joseph (Ben Whishaw) as he walks into frame in a manner not dissimilar to the introduction to Marion in Psycho. He is now the unwitting protagonist whose journey is followed in Surge, the feature debut from director Aneil Karia (who previously worked with Whishaw in his short film Beat). And what a journey it is.
Joseph is unappreciated by his colleagues in his menial job and disregarded by his emotionally distant father (Ian Gelder). He’s deeply unhappy with his life; his nerves are already on the verge of breaking and it won’t take much to pull what remains apart. When he does finally crack, losing his job after a mental breakdown, the film follows him on a day-long odyssey of mania through the city streets. It’s an intense but ultimately flawed outing.
The sound design is a cacophony of pulsating sirens and subways that mirrors the chaos of Joseph’s rapidly deteriorating mental state. Likewise, the camerawork is claustrophobic and deliberately unrefined; a shaky handheld camera struggles to pursue him down a road as he runs into different shops. It’s a cinematic sensory overload that creates a palpable unease from which the audience cannot escape. More powerful, though, is Whishaw’s performance. He is a force of nature, and holds nothing back here. Walking the line between captivating and unsettling, this is arguably the actor’s best performance to date.
Karia wastes no time accelerating his film to where he wants it to be, but the problem is it has nowhere else to go to after it hits full speed. The narrative moves from scene to scene of Whishaw getting himself into confrontational and bizarre situations, which turns Surge into something of a one-trick pony for most of its runtime.
With no real sense of climax, the only viable option is to decelerate events back to normality. When the dust settles there’s room for moments of tenderness between Joseph and his mum (Ellie Haddington) that give the events of his day a sense of catharsis. Viewers can breathe a sigh of relief that it’s all over, but with it there’s a lingering feeling that Joseph’s journey was fruitless.
Surge does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Glasgow Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Glasgow Film Festival website here.
Watch the trailer for Surge here: