Review by Camden Ferrell
Surge is a British film that had its premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. It marks the feature debut of short film and television director Aneil Karia. The film is led by British actor and Emmy-winner Ben Whishaw. While the film has a great leading performance and some great stylistic choices, it’s weighed down by a meandering first half that is too stripped back for its own good.
Joseph is an adult who lives a meaningless life. He works in airport security, passing his days patting down flyers and manning the same station. However, over the course of 24 hours, he goes on a journey of self-liberation. After an impulsive act, he is set on a reckless path that tries to put some excitement and meaning into his bland life. This idea isn’t too complex, so there’s a lot of room for exploration of these familiar themes and premises.
The script was written by Karia, Rupert Jones, and Rita Kalnejais. The writing isn’t anything outstanding, and it’s intentional minimal. There is very little dialogue from start to finish, and this both works and doesn’t. Their approach doesn’t make for the most compelling story, but it does allow a lot of wiggle room for Whishaw to act and make his own creative decisions. It feels like the script could have done more the flesh out eithers its lead character or their themes.
The best part of this movie is the leading performance from Whishaw. Even when the movie is lacking, Whishaw is reliable and quite often captivating. He saves a lot of the weaker moments of the film, and he plays into the sporadic chaos of the film very well. He does a great job of entering this role of a man trying to escape mundanity, and he gives a performance that is manic and quite uncomfortable to watch at times.
The outstanding problem with this movie is how much it meanders in its first half. While it’s intentionally executed this way to make the audience experience the protagonist’s own mundanity, it doesn’t help create a compelling narrative. It dooms the movie before it can even begin. Luckily, once the movie raises the stakes, it becomes more interesting and erratic with its camerawork and acting. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to make up for the disappointment of what comes before it.
Surge features an impressive leading performance from Ben Whishaw, but its slow opening half prevent it from being transcendent in its narrative and themes. It shows promise for Karia as a director, and there are a couple of great moments throughout.
Surge is in theaters and on demand September 24.