“This is not what a good life looks like,” says the mother of Ben Whishaw’s character, Joseph, in Aneil Karia’s frenetic debut feature film, Surge.
It’s a line that cuts to the heart of the film’s raw and unsettling message: of all the ways we could design our contemporary world and live within it, is the arbitrary one we’ve chosen really the best we could do? Are we all Joseph – one narky comment from a colleague, stranger or family member away from totally losing our shit?
While it may have been written and filmed pre-pandemic, its visceral sense of a human psyche imploding under the pressure of a lonely, monotonous, seemingly meaningless existence could not be more apt: after spending over 15 months in varying states of lockdown, most viewers can probably relate to that now more than ever. Watching Joseph unravel rather spectacularly is at once disturbing and somehow liberating.
Surge forms an almost literal interpretation of its title, with a rhythm that sees the tension rise to the verge of breaking point, before pulling back to a simmer again, time after time. The central performance of Ben Whishaw, with whom Karia had worked previously on his 2013 short, Beat, is unnervingly committed. Virtually wordless, it functions at a breathless pace, with each flicker of emotion playing out via a pulsing physicality.
There’s a surreal feel to the film’s images, with the drab and everyday made poignant and abstract. The awkward intimacy of patting down strangers day after day in his job as an airport security guard feels more and more jarring each time. As Joseph tears open a mattress and clambers inside, it inescapably brings to mind rebirth but in reverse.
We had a fascinating chat with director Karia over Zoom about how he came to cast and work with Whishaw, making the transition from shorts to a feature film, and how he hopes viewers will too be prompted to break out of the shackles of superficial modern day existence, albeit in a less dramatic way.
By Sarah Bradbury. First published on The Upcoming on 25th May 2021.
Surge is released in select cinemas and digitally on demand on 28th May 2021.
Watch the trailer for Surge here: