Reviewed by: Richard Mellor

Surveillance is the latest offering from Jennifer Lynch - the daughter of movie maverick David - whose first effort behind the camera, Boxing Helena (1993) was widely derided, despite being idolised by a small minority.

Despite the fact that David acted as executive producer, there is little evidence of his influence here, with Lynch adopting a much darker, if less dense approach than her dad. The one-horse town setting and senseless murder it witnesses (in a terrifying opening credits sequence) does recall Twin Peaks, while the emphasis on road-based violence is reminiscent of Wild At Heart, but there is a very different tone. When FBI agents Anderson (Julia Ormond) and Hallaway (Bill Pullman) arrive on the scene, where Twin Peaks' sheriff welcomed Agent Dale Cooper warmly, the Santa Fe desert town's local constabulary in Surveillance greets the Bureau staff with disdain and jealousy.

Copy picture

The slaying is just the most recent instalment the violent escapeds of a group of masked killers slicing their way across America and more of their violence is evident on the local highway. It's these latter crimes that Anderson and Hallaway slowly piece together in the copshop, with the help of three survivors: Stephanie, a eight-year-old and peculiarly perceptive child, drugged-up blonde fox Bobbi (Pell James) and Jack (co-writer Kent Harper), an intensely angry, spittling officer who lost his partner in the mayhem.

The agents' interview the trio in separate rooms, with relunctant logistical help from their hosts. Hallaway watches all the interrogations simultaneously over grainy video-cameras, retaining a suspicious ability to know which is worth paying attention to at crucial times. We see what he sees, and then silvery flashbacks as each witness relates a vital stage of their recent tribulations. The piecemeal story is chronological and increasingly gripping, building towards a crescendo with agonising - but delicious - lethargy.

While nothing like the grotesques or starkly symbolic characters that often litter David's dramas, Surveillance's personalities still aren't the type you'd invite to a dinner party. Together with his now deceased partner, Jack humiliates and terrifies speeding motorists to the point of enforced gunpoint snogging; Bobbi and her late boyfriend guffaw as their drug dealer seizes up and dies in front of them, then steal his stash; the local constabulary are lechery personified, bawdy caricatures of lonesome, sex-starved men. Even Stephanie is spookily composed given her age and massive loss.

The sun-drenched scenery - sprawling dunes, the plainest of plains, asphalt mirages - brings back memories of Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas, but the ugliness of the protagonists, and the sheer nastiness of Surveillance as a whole, is much more suited to B-movie bloodbaths. The appearance of straght-to-video stalwart Michael Ironside does nothing to negate this sensation. With all movies, one tries to imagine the moment of germination: such a task is far from easy for any decent-minded soul watching the callous chaos of Jennifer Lynch's film.

Ormond and Pullman abet Surveillance's queasiness with their characters' near-complete apathy to the situation unfolding around them. Malevolent and authoritative, they exchange sly grins and sneaky hand touches when alone; their undefined partnership feeling ever more unprofessional. Ormond is a revelation - her kind-but-firm agent, distinctly sexy in a tight-fit trousersuit way, is a million miles from previous wishy-washy roles in the likes of Sabrina. James is sassier, but equally good as the smart-talking kid whose potty mouth belies real trepidation.

When James and her fellow survivors finally come to recollect the murders themselves, the flashbacks become jerky and shorter, and the pace quickens, captivatingly. Shame then that Surveillance subsequently concludes with a rather cheesy, OTT 'twist' finale, out of kilter both tone and style-wise with the film's otherwise subtle, if morose, storytelling format.

Reviewed on: 16 Mar 2009
Share this with others on...
Surveillance packshot
FBI agents try to track down a group of masked killers with the help of three survivors.
Amazon link

Director: Jennifer Chambers Lynch

Writer: Kent Harper, Jennifer Chambers Lynch

Starring: Caroline Aaron, Kyle Briere, Hugh Dillon, Gill Gayle, Kent Harper, Michael Ironside, Pell James, Shannon Jardine, Mac Miller, Charlie Newmark

Year: 2008

Runtime: 97 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US, Germany


Search database: