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‘…a gripping, yet utterly depressing drama…’

Ben Wishaw is probably best known as the boy quartermaster Q in the last few James Bond films, or as the voice of Paddington Bear in the deeply horrid Paddington movies. But he’s also a pretty good actor, as he showed opposite Hugh Grant in the political drama A Very English Scandal, and with so many high profile projects to his name, from Mary Poppins Returns to The Lobster, it was only a matter of time before Wishaw landed a big, showcase role, and Surge is it.

The title is on the money; we might talk about Surge pricing, and the word has a new, sinister modern connotation; in this case, however, we’re looking at a character study of mental illness, and a man who feels an emotional surge that causes him to act in a way that’s socially unacceptable. Joseph (Wishaw) gets the Stansted Express from Tottenham Hale every morning, a routine that would shake anyone’s sense of themselves. He works for whatever a British airport thinks of as the TSA, patting down flight risks, separating customers from their metal objects or shoes. But Joseph gets sent home for erratic behaviour, and a promise to help a workmate connect a laptop to her television sends Joseph into a violent decent into madness.

Getting an HDMI handshake to work is generally a tricky business, and Aneil Karia’s film doesn’t hold back on the gory details; Joseph finds the right cable in a convenience store, but his debit card is declined, sending him to a cashpoint and then a bank in search of cash. The amateur crime spree that follows has led to Surge being marketed as a ‘thriller’, which is surely isn’t unless observing mental illness thrills you. It’s a gripping, yet utterly depressing drama that focuses on such unhappy details as Joseph’s loveless parents and his involuntary biting down on a glass during a household dinner, leaving him with grotesque, bloody injuries to his mouth. The publicity material decribes Joseph’s journey as one of self-liberation, but self-destruction might be just as approprate a word.

Surge leaves the viewer with questions, not all of them positive. The film observes Joseph as one might observe a passing stranger in the street, never quite getting inside his head. Some details, like a coarse best man’s speech at a wedding Joseph crashes, seem farcically exaggerated and let down the potential seriousness of the subject. Wishaw immerses himself in the part, and his performance is committed and top notch. But while compelling, Surge is a hard film to enjoy, trading on the edge of exploiting mental illness for entertainment purposes. Karia’s film, developed from a short, just about falls on the right side of exploitation, but it’s a close run thing…

Surge is released in UK cinemas today May 28th 2021. Thanks to Vertigo for access.


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  1. I actually think I would enjoy this film. Mental health is something I do a lot with in work and I realise there is now rules or limits on how it can change one person’s perception of life. I will definitely be checking this out and hope it is written by someone who understands the sensitivity that comes with it.

    • I also have mental health dealings, and don’t feel it should be a taboo subject. At present, I’m reviewing the film alone, but would be interested to know what kind of research they did for this intense film. I’m wary of cliches about the subject, but this film does manage to skip past most of them; will be keen to hear other opinions, including yours.

  2. Pretty impossible to properly convey mental illness. Whether it gets physically out of hand or is confined to the brain it doesn’t matter, it’s just something that rots away at a person. Any attempt is laudable but worse of course for the actual person than any casual viewer.

    • Similarly, drug taking is hard to convey, it’s all going on within the head of the character. Observing from the outside is one way to do it, and works here, but you end up watching to see what dangerous thing he’ll do next, and that gets tiresome at points, as wll as morally dubious.

  3. I liked Surge (the soda). I doubt I would like THIS Surge though 🙁

    The subject matter is definitely one I’d stay away from in my entertainment.

    • Yup, I like my crime sprees to be more of the Smokey and the Bandit variety.

      We don’t have Surge soda here, what’s it like?

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