Surge review – Ben Whishaw shines as a man unravelling

Ben Whishaw’s Joseph is an airport security worker at Stansted. His job involves giving humiliating pat-downs, his home life consists of lonely TV dinners in his Tottenham flat and now, visiting his parents, he can’t even drink a glass of water without being criticised. “You swallow so loudly, Joseph,” complains his mother (Ellie Haddington). No wonder his composure shatters (along with the glass), an incident that sets off a spree of increasingly chaotic behaviour. The frequently handheld camera keeps pace with Joseph’s frenetic energy as he robs a bank and later, in one astonishing scene, rips up a hotel mattress.

Assisted by co-writer Rita Kalnejais (Babyteeth), British writer-director Aneil Karia’s debut feature draws from his 2013 short, Beat, which also starred Whishaw as a man propelled by unseen forces. Whishaw’s intensity is gripping to watch but the character remains opaque; whether we’re meant to read Joseph as experiencing psychosis or simply suffering the unforgiving conditions of city life under capitalism is ambiguous.

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