Movie Review: Surveillance

By Matthew Huntley

July 6, 2009

This picture is like one giant homage to Soderbergh.

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Surveillance is a slow, bizarre thriller meant to test the audience's endurance. It has been directed by Jennifer Lynch and produced by her father, David, who is famous for his own line of twisted tales that feature extreme violence and sadomasochism. Like father, like daughter.

But Surveillance isn't sick and weird just for the sake of being sick and weird. Underneath its meandering façade, director Lynch seems in complete control of her resources and works to manipulate and challenge us. However strange, banal and inconsequential a lot of the scenes may seem, she always keeps us interested. I even found a message in it.

The movie starts off like any other generic B thriller, when a serial killer with a grotesque mask — one that looks like it's made of papier mache — beats a sleeping husband and wife in a sleazy motel. The wife manages to escape, but the killer comes after her in one of those typical serial killer vans. She's presumed kidnapped.


Two days later, a blonde drug addict (Pell James), an eight-year-old girl (Ryan Simpkins) and a corrupt cop (Kent Harper) wait together in a dilapidated police station. They too have had a run-in with the killer, but they managed to live and talk about it. Now they're waiting for Agents Anderson (Julia Ormond) and Hallaway (Bill Pullman) from the FBI, who want to question them about the gruesome event that took place on a desolate road that resulted in five deaths. There's already tension between the local police officers and the FBI since the cops think the Feds are trying to do their jobs.

At first, the movie seems like it will go down a familiar path of having the junkie, the little girl and the cop all testify about what they were doing the day of the murders as we try and decipher who's telling the truth. But it doesn't quite take that route because the two adults are obviously lying based on what they tell us and what their flashbacks actually reveal. It's not like the truth matters that much anyway because each of the stories actually has little to do with the murders that take place later on. We know up front that everyone who's not the drug addict, the little girl and the bruised cop will eventually be killed.

Lynch makes us witnesses to all the characters' miserable and mundane lives. Stephanie, the eight-year-old girl, is on vacation with her mom (Cheri Oteri), step-father (Hugh Dillon) and brother (Kent Wolkowski), but no one is having a particularly good time as they ride along in their beat-down car. The wounded cop, Officer Bennet, and his erring partner (French Stewart) serve no real purpose as law enforcers and spend most of their day shooting out people's tires and pulling them over to rob them. Bobbi, the junkie, and her boyfriend (Mac Miller) have just stolen the last of a dead man's narcotics and snort cocaine as they drive. We don't really know where they're going.

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