The Movie Waffler New to Netflix - SURGE | The Movie Waffler

New to Netflix - SURGE

surge review
The stress of city life leads a young man to embark on a sociopathic spree.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Aneil Karia

Starring: Ben Whishaw, Ellie Haddington, Ian Gelder, Jasmine Jobson

surge poster

Director Aneil Karia gained attention for his 2013 short Beat, in which Ben Whishaw played a man dancing manically through the generally oblivious but sometimes confrontational streets of London. For his feature debut, Surge, Karia has reenlisted Whishaw for a film that similarly drops the actor into crowded London streets where he behaves like the sort of person you make sure to avoid eye contact with, gesturing to the sky and muttering to himself.

How do such people end up this way? Well, in the case of Joseph (Whishaw), it's the result of a Falling Down-esque breakdown. Working in security at Stansted Airport, Joseph's days are filled with stressful encounters with the public. In the evening he goes home to his apartment, microwaves his dinner and listens to an obnoxious neighbour constantly revving his quad bike.

surge review

During an awkward birthday party thrown by his judgmental parents, Joseph finally snaps, biting into a glass tumbler and cutting his lip before fleeing his childhood home. The next day in work he similarly flips out and is summarily dismissed. Joseph decides he doesn't give a damn anymore, and to hell with the consequences. Armed with this liberating state of mind he holds up a bank, merely using a note that claims he has a gun trained on the cashier, and is surprised at how easily he gets away with it.

In a style heavily influenced by Alan Clarke, Karia follows Joseph over the next 24 hours as he visits Lily (Jasmine Jobson), the co-worker he's long harboured a crush on, steals his neighbour's quad bike, checks into and trashes a hotel room, crashes a wedding reception, and robs another couple of banks. And when I say follow, I mean follow - as in Clarke's Elephant (and Gus Van Sant's Clarke-ian drama of the same name), the camera hovers behind Joseph as though he's the protagonist of a Grand Theft Auto video game.

surge review

Whishaw is arguably best known for providing the voice of Paddington, whose motto is "If we're kind and polite the world will be right." As well-intentioned such an idea is, there's little real world evidence to back it up. Joseph spends his days being courteous to the public and it just leads him down a path of depression. It's only when he decides to embrace a solipsistic mentality that he finds joy, albeit for a brief period of time. Much of this is of his own making, like his obsession with Lily, who willingly engages in a quickie within minutes of him popping around armed with his new narcissistic state of mind. Having built her up as some sort of unattainable goddess in his mind, Joseph can only laugh when he realises how easily she gives herself to him for some meaningless pawing.

Joseph appears to have spent most of his life torturing himself with his low self-esteem, but Surge argues the case that this sort of self-awareness, while damaging to our mental health, can prevent us from reverting to a Neanderthal mentality; that being "civilised" is grounded in fear of consequences; that we're just a mere sensory overload from our lizard brain kicking in and causing us to follow our most primal instincts.

surge review

That Karia has chosen Whishaw - an actor known for a very British restraint - to embody the madness that threatens to rise up in all of us is a clever move. All flailing, sinewy limbs and manic piercing eyes, Whishaw is almost unrecognisable in arguably a career best performance. With little in the way of dialogue, it's a physical part that's as much dance as acting, mentality conveyed through movement as Whishaw dances through the oblivious crowds like a jester who showed up for work at the wrong court. If Paddington himself can lose his way, what hope for the rest of us?

Surge is on Netflix UK/ROI now.

2021 movie reviews