Film Review: Surge (2020)

There’s committed work from Ben Whishaw in Surge but fatally flawed writing makes it a very difficult watch

“Sorry mate, it’s not working”

Written by Aneil Karia, Rupert Jones and Rita Kalnejais and directed by Karia, it’s hard to know what to make of Surge. Ben Whishaw plays Joseph, an airport security guard who we quickly surmise is a bit of a loner. And when he has a bit of a bad day, which turns out to be a day of some note, it snowballs into a violent mess of chaotic proportions.

As he ricochets a difficult visit to his parents (Ian Gelder and Ellie Haddington) to a frustrating work shift that ends with him getting fired, he barrels around London suffering what might be a bit of a breakdown, colliding (literally in some cases) into meetings with strangers and trying to help the one colleague who does tolerate him by getting her a HDMI cable, a job which leads to its own world of unlikely trouble.

The difficulty is the way the film pulls it punches in letting us know what is really happening. It feels an awful lot like the implication is that Joseph is very much on the spectrum, the film is at pains to show his social isolation, his behavioural tics, his rapid discomfort at most things in the world. And then comes the break which precipitates his increasingly unhinged actions.

But along with that comes no concomitant exploration of mental health or its challenges. I don’t need everything to have an explanation but just pushing a mentally ill character until he cracks does not an antihero make, no matter how vividly Whishaw’s performance details it. Surge is just an aimless, even exploitative exercise that leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. 

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