Movie Review: Surveillance

By Matthew Huntley

July 6, 2009

This picture is like one giant homage to Soderbergh.

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About halfway through the screening, another member of the audience leaned over to me and said there are no likable characters in this movie, which I think is one of the points — a serial killer is on the loose, but the people who are being killed don't have much to live for in the first place. Or at least that's what the movie would have us believe since the characters' behavior is wretched. They're also ambitionless, out of shape, tired and show nothing but remorse. Based on we do know about them, no one is really going to care whether they live or die. The only reason the FBI agents are coming to Podunk is because it's protocol. In that regard, it's also a sad movie to watch because of how little we care about the people in it, but that's just one of the spins Lynch puts on the genre, which I found interesting, but also underwhelming.

One great thing about the movie is its production design. It's simple and bleak, but quite effective. Lynch films in what appears to be a real, run-down police station, with scuff marks on the floors and walls, old holiday decorations on the tack boards, and rotting dishes in the sink. Like the characters, there's something oddly fascinating about this location that makes you unable to take your eyes off it. The whole time you're looking at the putrid conditions, you think about how there used to be a use for it all and now it's just wasting away. To me, that's the movie's message — unless we continue to make use of our resources, they will eventually become wasted and of no use to anybody. It's almost like the movie serves as a warning or threat to laziness and settling for less.

The message is reinforced by some of the wardrobe. For instance, the police captain's (Michael Ironside) uniform is too big and loose on him, as if his other uniform became so tight that he needed to go up to next available size. Could it be he was getting too fat and not using his body enough for exercise? Similarly, the pant suit worn by the police station secretary (Caroline Aaron) is too tight. Perhaps she's underpaid and can't afford new clothes.


Even if I am looking too far into these elements, the movie is full of nuances like these that grab your attention and make you think about them, even though they appear to be nothing at all. As drawn out and negligible as everything seems, I couldn't turn away from the screen and I didn't find myself tuning out. The movie is hypnotizing the way random, weird events keep happening and how they don't seem tied together. It's ultimately about disgraceful human nature.

The ending is a real letdown. For the first three quarters, the movie has an offbeat tone, but at the start of the last act, it descends toward a formula ending. I would rather have it keep on asking us why we should care about these people rather than dish out a sensational twist. To its credit, it was creepy and it did pick up the movie's slow pace, but I would have preferred the movie continue challenging us.

Surveillance is interesting to experience, but, alas, it is not an entertaining movie to watch. Interesting and entertaining are not interchangeable. However, it is not a picture I will soon forget and although I don't officially recommend it for a trip to the theater, I would say look for it on the home market. Up until the ending, it sort of works like Fargo, although it's not nearly as funny, in which a whole lot doesn't seem to happen, but we're still mesmerized by its presentation. The movie is cringing, sometimes boring and all-around weird, but despite such off-putting qualities, you can't look away.

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