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▶︎ Surge is in UK cinemas and on digital platforms from 28 May.

Most people have thought about jumping the barriers at a train station, but the decision to act is what makes all the difference. Aneil Karia’s debut feature Surge is an examination of that decision, and what follows.

From a routine life working in airport security, Joseph (a compelling Ben Whishaw) detaches himself from the rules of society and spirals out of control. Except he is in control – or he is consciously unbridled, as he struts and runs down the streets of London, escalating his actions into the criminal. Why? We never quite know.

In the first act, we sense a simmering violence. Senses are overwhelmed. He bites down on a fork. Tilts his head slightly. Closes his eyes. He is a jigsaw piece in the wrong puzzle. It’s an effective, nuanced study of a man about to snap. Once he does, it’s a dreamlike rush in which anything seems possible – a series of logical leaps that feel oddly reasonable when we’re zoomed so far into one man’s frantic psyche. Of course you’d decide to rob a bank if the cash machine ate your card and you needed £4.99 for a cable to fix your colleague’s TV. Of course.

Surge (2020)

Joseph tests the world’s boundaries with childlike curiosity. He gatecrashes a wedding like he’s walking through a museum and, in an exquisitely disquieting scene, calmly destroys the furnishings of a luxury hotel room. The act is chilling in its deliberation.

Whishaw’s performance is beautifully detailed and unsettling. Joseph’s mannerisms, spasms, adrenaline breathlessness and inappropriate smiles become the film’s language, as the dialogue is very minimal. The story is slight too, though enriched by brief studies of Joseph’s parents, both proud and broken, enough for you to wonder if they’ve made him the way he is. Are we seeing Joseph finally, truly living?

Although I was unconvinced by a sex scene with his colleague (a symbol of his newfound self-abandon, but it feels as though she is used – by him, by the film), and the lack of consequences for his actions reads as implausible, Surge is consistently engaging and disturbing. It seems uninterested in pathologising – rather pointing to a shared human condition: filling a desperate void. We sense that Joseph won’t be the last to reach this point of no return.

Further reading

White noise: Carol Clover on Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down

In this cover feature from our May 1993 issue, posted here in tribute to the late Joel Schumacher, Carol Clover reflects on the director’s controversial film Falling Down, in which a middle-aged white male, armed with a bag full of weapons, takes revenge on a world he believes oppresses him.

By Carol Clover

White noise: Carol Clover on Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down

Sight & Sound June 2021

In our current issue, Mark Kermode and Prano Bailey–Bond talk Censor and the 80s British censorship massacre. Read if you dare! Plus the history of ‘video nasties’, Kelly Reichardt on First Cow, Suzanne Lindon’s Spring Blossom, the sprawling brilliance of Robert Altman’s Nashville, and vintage Jack Nicholson. Available in print and digitally.

Find out more and get a copy