The English word ‘surge’ means, among other things, tidal wave or electric shock, and in the psychological thriller of the same name by the English director Aneil Karia, each scene makes audible, visible and tangible what it means when you constantly experience those kinds of sensory peaks in your head. Joseph works as a security guard at the security check at London Stansted Airport, where he sees streams of people and their luggage pass by every day and everyone is potentially suspicious. He may be even more nervous than the people who have to go through the check.
When we see him at the beginning of the film amidst the hectic pace and crowds, we think for a moment that he is a passenger himself. Maybe one that has something to hide. And who else but actor Ben Whishaw can play that, someone we know both as Q in the James Bond films, as the voice of Paddington bear? He takes on the gait of a schoolboy, his eyes flickering now and then, then disappearing again into the abyss that threatens somewhere in that lanky body. He is not called one of the best actors of his generation for nothing. Because in order to keep a character like Joseph, with whom everything takes place in his head, his fears, his paranoia, his latent psychosis, without falling into overacting, you have to have the ability to draw the viewer into to suck up the vortex of your inner self. That is extra important because director Karia really wanted to make a ‘character driven’ thriller. It seems his craft. That’s how he made before the nerve-racking short film The Long Goodbye (viewable in its entirety on YouTube) with actor/rapper Riz Ahmed, in which he similarly portrayed the ongoing high-tension racism experienced by the British Asian community.
Surge’s story is all about following Joseph through a near-breakdown and a series of impulsive crimes for a day. No explanation is given for the overstimulation he experiences. We follow him through London, kind of like in de clip ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ van The Verve. Does he bump into the world, or does the world bump into him? Thanks to a restless camera and flash montage, the city becomes a metaphor for the overfilled head of a man about to burst. It’s not an easy trip. It’s the social-realistic version of hell.
Surge Directed by: Aneil Karia. Starring: Ben Whishaw, Jasmine Jobson, Ellie Haddington, Ian Gelder. In: 19 cinemas
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A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on 15 September 2021 A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of 15 September 2021