Surveillance (2009)


For those of us unfortunate enough to have seen “Boxing Helena”, it may come as no surprise to discover its director, Jennifer “Daughter of David” Lynch, didn’t get another chance to direct a film for 15 years. Did she learn anything in the meantime?

After a slow-motion double murder by a mysterious masked duo, we go to an unnamed small town in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by vast empty fields. Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond are a couple of FBI agents who have been called out here to investigate a multiple killing from the day before (possibly, though not necessarily, connected to the two murders we saw) and they have to deal with the local police, who seem to not give a damn about the FBI, their jobs, the welfare of the local population, or anything apart from doing a cover version of the film “Super Troopers”, just not played for laughs.

Three separate questionings take place, with Pullman supervising from a central location, all three being on video. The stories – a surviving cop from a particularly scummy partnership, a young girl, and a female junkie – all have different stories to tell, covering the truth in various ways, but as we hear their stories we get flashbacks to what would appear to be the actual event of the previous day.

There’s a really good sense of unease built up from the location – the flat nothingness of the landscape and the cheap-looking brightly lit police station both have you on edge – and the kid, Stephanie, is a remarkable performance unlike other horribly saccharine kid characters. The film goes from a fairly slow, contemplative thriller into WHAT THE HECK JUST HAPPENED and for such a shift, it’s handled well. But there’s a problem, and it’s not related to that scene, more to the “twist”.


Without spoiling it for you, dear reader, the twist is so screamingly obvious that I was tempted to watch it again to see if they actually just told me what it was at the beginning, and the rest of the film was a….well, I can’t say. But with so many characters acting in rather unusual ways, like the cops being jokey assholes the day after one of their own died in a brutal manner, you can kind-of chalk your suspicions up to the deliberately OTT, blackly comic style Lynch built up.

It’s interesting to see two actors best known for comedy – French Stewart and former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Cheri Oteri – in dramatic roles, and Julia Ormond tries her best, with the dishevelment of her hair matching the chaos the film descends into. It’s Bill Pullman who’s worth watching, though. It felt like he was auditioning for a much weirder film, with his multiple tics and oddities, but I think maybe he was doing a favour for Pa Lynch, realised the sort of role he was going to have to play and just had fun with it.

I felt, up to when the twist was revealed, that the film was okay. A bit ponderous, maybe, and the serious tone didn’t match with the rather odd performances from the locals. But then everything goes bonkers, and the only sensible reaction was to go “really? That’s the best plot you could manage?” I’m pretty stupid when it comes to films, so if I can see your big reveal coming a mile off then you’ve got some problems.

At the end, all I was left pondering is why anyone would make this film. It’s just nasty and stupid for no reason, to no end, and could have really done with a rewrite or something. The reveal isn’t even close to being as clever as Lynch wanted it to be, sadly.

Rating: thumbs down


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