Written by: Adam Vaughn | September 23rd, 2021
Surge (Aneil Karia, 2020) 2½ out of 4 stars.
Aneil Karia’s debut feature, Surge, takes an analytical look at society through the eyes of a beaten-down protagonist. Much like its predecessors, films like Taxi Driver and Joker, Surge delivers a chaotic, spirited, and often tragic adventure for its main character Joseph (Ben Whishaw, Mary Poppins Returns), a man who has finally reached his limit with the dull, tedious, pointless tolls of life. On the one hand, I absolutely applaud seeing the energy in the overall construction of this film, from various aesthetic viewpoints, as well as the touching scenes of dialogue between Joseph and the supporting cast. On the other hand, Surge doesn’t always deliver its story effectively, often cluttered and lacking the individuality that similar films have had before.
From a technical standpoint, Surge delivers relentlessly vivid cinematography, fully embracing several verylong takes to create a series of thrilling moments. Seeing Joseph travel from work, to home, and to various random places—all within a 24-hour timeline—adds a sense of gritty realism, giving the film the right kind of inescapable intensity. Complimentary to this cinematic direction is Whishaw’s performance as Joseph which is beautiful throughout. While I found the opening airport sequence to be a sour exception, overall Surge’s sense of urgency leaves a very specific, and admirable, emotion.
Where Surge falls short is in its inability to capture the same memorable moments as films with the same theme. Comparing Joseph to Travis Bickle or Arthur Fleck is unfortunately no comparison, for unlike the latter two, Joseph’s character (while brilliantly performed by Whishaw) never feels as unique or relatable, and oftentimes came across as comically written. What’s more, many of the ways Karia attempts to portray Joseph as down on his luck come across as convenient or outright silly. At times, it almost feels as if Joseph’s motivation for doing bad things is simply because he can, and while I did end up sympathizing with his character, there’s less of a relatability to his descent into madness.
Overall, Surge gets its point across, and the social commentary on how we treat our fellow man is occasionally a powerful experience. I particularly found a touching and uncomfortable truth in Joseph’s interaction with his mother and father (Ellie Haddington and Ian Gelder, respectively) throughout the film. But when it comes to such powerful thematic content, Surge only manages to half-tackle the realism behind the struggle Joseph encounters, taking away from the authenticity the film otherwise has to offer.