Magnolia Pictures // 2009 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Franck Tabouring (Retired) // August 31st, 2009
A killer investigation with a murderous twist.
With Surveillance, David Lynch's daughter Jennifer has crafted a surprisingly dark, disturbing thriller that will fully capture your attention and hit you with a big, violent twist you won't easily forget.
Following a series of brutal murders in a small town, FBI agents Sam Hallaway (Bill Pullman, Lost Highway) and Elizabeth Anderson (Juile Ormond, Inland Empire) arrive at a local police station to question three witnesses whose statements are vital to the case. Little do the agents know that what they are about to hear is a series of practiced lies that make it even harder to uncover the shocking truth.
As you may have guessed already, Jennifer Lynch's Surveillance is by no means a mainstream thriller. The film competed at the Cannes Film Festival and had a brief theatrical run back in June, but its violent nature and twisted plot certainly won't appeal to mass audiences. That said, there's something about this movie that really intrigued me, and I'm happy to announce I thoroughly enjoyed Surveillance from start to finish.
Even though Jennifer's film is nowhere near as mysterious and puzzling as her dad's work, it still has that kind of bizarre atmosphere to it that slowly builds up creepy tension while keeping viewers guessing until the very end. Surveillance is not as clever or meaningful as I wanted it to be, but the intriguing development of the plot and the eccentricity of the characters pulled me right in and left me curious about how it all would play out in the end. That, of course, is always a good sign.
Surveillance is one of those films trying very hard to mislead the audience in an attempt to shock everybody with a massive twist in the end, and even though I halfway guessed into what direction the story would eventually be heading, I still ended up being surprised by some of the tragic events that unfold as this case comes to a close. In my attempt to keep this review free of spoilers, that's all I will say.
My desire not to reveal anything makes it harder to comment in detail about characters and story, but what I can tell you is that Lynch's plot structure here is truly compelling. Part of the movie takes place inside the local police station as Hallaway and Anderson try to find out what exactly happened, and the rest is what the three witnesses did and experienced on the day of these horrifying murders.
What makes this film so interesting at this point is that almost nothing these people tell the agents corresponds to the truth, a tool Lynch uses efficiently to confuse her viewers. We've got bad cops pretending to be good Samaritans, a drug addict trying to keep herself out of everything, and a young girl who saw a bunch of crucial things no one else saw. Truths or lies, the stories these individuals have to tell are an integral part of how well the movie succeeds at manipulating its audiences.
Stuffed with some brutal scenes and a decent dose of delicious dark humor, Surveillance also features a fantastic cast that makes the whole experience even more pleasurable. Acting honors in my book go to Bill Pullman, who does a brilliant job at portraying Agent Hallaway, a character so awkward you cannot help but trying to figure out what the heck is going on in this guy's mind. Joining him is Julia Ormond, who delivers a superb performance as his partner. I also want to mention 11-year-old Ryan Simpkins, whose excellent performance and challenging role as a young witness also contributes to how well the whole mystery plays out in the end.
Surveillance is a visually compelling experience, and the Blu-ray edition of the film does it justice. The video transfer struggles at times as the picture looks a tad too grainy for my taste, but then again, it redeems itself in plenty of other shots. A majority of the film is set along a highway during the day, and these exterior shots seem mostly superior to those inside in terms of image quality. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio transfer certainly delivers the goods, balancing Todd Dryanton's interesting score and all the dialogue fairly well. This one's definitely worth a shot in high-definition.
What disappointed me a little was the DVD's bonus material. Besides a couple of deleted scenes and a so-so alternate ending, the special features also include a brief, forgettable featurette called "HDNet: A Look at Surveillance," which serves as a mini preview of the film. Also included is a 15-minute behind-the-scenes look, which gives the cast and crew an opportunity to briefly introduce their characters. Those participating in this featurette are having a bunch of fun with it, and while it does include footage from the set, it's not particularly informative. Things improve a little during the feature commentary with Lynch and actors Mac Miller and Charlie Newmark, who are also enjoying themselves but do get into some interesting stuff about the making of the film here and there.
Surveillance is not exactly a masterpiece, but the film's original setup, eccentric characters, fast-paced, puzzling plot, and gloomy atmosphere are reasons enough to give it a shot. It's a wicked viewing experience, and one I will certainly revisit in the near future.
Freaky, but not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2009 Franck Tabouring; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site