Surge

★★★

Surge isn’t only a soda from the late 1990s that’s made a comeback at Burger King of late – it’s also a British riff on Joel Schumacher’s “Falling Down.”

“Surge” (opening in select theaters on Friday, Sept. 24) stars Ben Whishaw as Joseph, a London-based airport security officer living an emptily loveless life. He isn’t close to his mother Joyce (Ellie Haddington) nor his father Alan (Ian Gelder). He doesn’t have friends. He doesn’t have a girlfriend. Joseph is the sort of cat who brings his own birthday cake to work only to be skipped over for a piece.

The first third of “Surge” focuses solely upon presenting Joseph as such a put upon figure that it’s unsurprising when he finally snaps. The next two-thirds depict his mental decline and misbehavior. Joseph’s first outburst is a successful bank robbery. He follows this up by having unprotected sex with his co-worker Lily (Jasmine Jobson), whose cable he agreed to fix. (Shades of “The Big Lebowski?”) Other freak-outs include sticking up a post office, hopping turnstiles on the tube, contentiously crashing a wedding and stealing the 4-wheeler of his obnoxious neighbor (Perry Fitzpatrick).

The angry white dude subgenre of movies doesn’t do much for me. I outright dislike “Joker” despite really respecting Joaquin Phoenix’s performance. (Last year’s “Spree” is an exception to the rule. Review here.) “Surge” falls victim to many of the subgenre’s trappings, but redeems itself somewhat with a beautifully-played pair of scenes between Joseph and Joyce near the picture’s conclusion.

Whishaw is an actor I generally dig. He’s done awesome work in movies such as “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” and “Cloud Atlas,” has admirably filled the shoes of Desmond Llewelyn as Q in the past few James Bond movies and was my favorite character on the last season of FX’s “Fargo.” Whishaw received the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Acting at the Sundance Film Festival for his portrayal of Joseph and it’s not unwarranted.

The dude’s a bundle of pinched nerves here. Joseph often bites down so forcefully on forks that you half expect him to break a tooth. He also bites down on glasses while drinking – one time doing so hard enough that the glass breaks badly cutting the inside of his mouth. It’s disquieting stuff. Some actors gravitate to lighter material after tackling a dark role. I suspect the voice of Paddington opted to go the opposite direction.

Further adding to the unsettling nature of the film are the jostling camerawork of cinematographer Stuart Bentley (he shot the “Hang the DJ” episode of “Black Mirror”) and booming sound design of Paul Davies and his crew. Davies is a master at disquieting sound design after having done movies such as “You Were Never Really Here” and “Saint Maud.”

“Surge” is the feature directorial debut of short filmmaker Aneil Karia, who previously collaborated with Whishaw on “Beat” (2013) and more recently with Riz Ahmed on “The Long Goodbye.” At 105 minutes “Surge” is too long and I can’t help but feel it would work better as a short. In spite of this, the movie made an impression on me via its technical merits and Whishaw and Haddington’s performances. I’ll be curious to see whatever Karia makes next.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *