Aneil Karia’s feature debut, SURGE, is an astounding film about life on the edge. The film stars Ben Whishaw as Joseph, an airport security agent in London who is full of anxiety, stress, and boredom with his life. As we meet Joseph, he’s on the verge of losing his grip on life and, at one point, he completely loses it. Joseph opts to live life without rules, breaking laws, and on the run.
SURGE is a slow burn. The first act of the film sees Joseph living life and barely hanging on. There is very little dialogue, but tension continues to rise thanks to Whishaw’s performance. You can see his own tension and discomfort with his life and his job. Through Karia’s direction, we understand how stressful it is to be part of airport security. As much as we, the passengers, hate going through bag checks and metal detectors, it’s not fun for the security folks either. We watch as Joseph deals with language barriers, the awkwardness of patting someone down and not knowing if they have a weapon, and people who might be a bit off-kilter.
As we watch Joseph unravel, a pivotal scene with his parents turns the tide and also the cinematographic focus of the film as delivered by DoP Stuart Bentley, B.S.C. In one quick act, Joseph snaps and the camera goes from smooth, steady movements to a handheld camera just as unrefined and jumpy as our lead character. Throughout the rest of SURGE, there are long shots following Joseph’s every move as he wanders the streets of London. What is Joseph up to? I don’t even think he knows, but at times there is an exhilaration in watching him and, at other times, it’s tense and worrying.
For his performance, Ben Whishaw won a Special Jury Award at Sundance 2020 and he definitely earned it. I couldn’t look away from him. His performance is emotional, devastating, and relatable. It’s not difficult to see yourself in his actions at the beginning of the movie and, although he does things that many of us would never think to do, he still feels like a hero. Someone who sticks it to society and bucks the system.
A tragic story with some great camera work and a brilliant performance from its lead, SURGE will be released in theaters on September 24th, followed by a VOD release on October 25th.