Sundance 2020 Review: Ben Whishaw is the Driving Force of Surge

Ben Whishaw has a knack for playing characters down on their luck with Joseph from Surge being the latest entry in his niche. Fed up with his soul-sucking day job as an airport security worker, Joseph decides to seek reckless adrenaline to get out of his sedate existence. His pursuit of thrills leads him down a path of criminal activity and self-destruction.

As far as storytelling goes, that’s all Surge is. An employee in the service industry getting out of his boredom just for a day. Yet, writer/director Aneil Karia still makes it a vivid filmmaking experiment. Once the film begins with Joseph going about on his day job, the camera keeps closing in on Joseph’s face to capture his feeling of entrapment before giving him more space once he sprints out of his work shift.

In addition, the kaleidoscopic colors that start following Joseph around illustrate the euphoria he gets from his newfound rush. Of course, his awakening is also well-captured by lead actor Ben Whishaw, who was awarded the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Acting at Sundance for his portrayal. Whishaw’s work is a masterclass in not just carrying a practical one-man show, but crafting a wordless character arc. Initially, Joseph is presented as cut-off and drained before his invisible wall gets torn down by demented laughs he makes to express his newfound freedom.

It isn’t entirely clear what makes Joseph tick. The awkward banter he has with his parents may be an inhibitor of his daily neuroticism. Maybe he’s itching to rebel against what he feels is a bleak society that is unfair to people like him. Either that or perhaps he’s just looking for some cheap thrills to add some fulfillment to his dull life. As a result of the picture’s undercooked storytelling, it’s hard trying to go beyond describing Joseph escaping his sedate existence.

That being said, Surge is still an admirable directorial experiment with an immensely committed Ben Whishaw performance. It may or may not attempt to make a simplistic society statement, yet its meticulous craftsmanship is still something that can’t be denied.

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Matthew St.Clair

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