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Review: Surveillance

Enervated and uselessly ugly, Surveillance does manage to create its own disturbing, alternate world.

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Surveillance
Photo: Magnet Releasing

Jennifer Lynch’s first film since 1993’s legendarily dire Boxing Helena, Surveillance may not be a better film, but it’s a more consistent one: While her Buñuel-does-Red Shoe Diaries debut combined an intriguing concept and an abysmal execution, her sophomore effort is equally abysmal in both areas. Taking place in a bleached heartland-wasteland where life seems neatly divided between buzzards and roadkill, the film maps out the convergence of a batch of professional loonies in the aftermath of a grisly murder. Among them are two federal agents (Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond) who engage in vaguely X-Files-ish banter, a sarcastic meth-head (Pell James), a pair of patrolmen (French Stewart and co-screenwriter Kent Harper) who delight in terrorizing vacationing families, and the eight-year-old sole survivor of the massacre (Ryan Simpkins). With its desolate highways, sinister video monitors, and free-floating bad vibes, the picture suggests either a knowing riff on images and themes beloved to Lynch’s illustrious father David or, more interestingly, her self-conscious attempt at stepping out of his shadow by outdoing him at his own game. Unfortunately, to paraphrase Mark Twain, Lynch fille knows the words but not the music. There is violence in Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire, yet these alarming eruptions of the characters’ anxieties are always accompanied by humor, curiosity, and a strange yet authentic humanism. By contrast, the brutality of Surveillance stems from little more than a nudging, “Shocked yet?” impulse that’s not so much repellent as boring. And the Tourette’s-like squibs of profane kookiness, such as when blocky, smirking Pullman tries to evoke Frank Booth-style danger by impersonating a fizzy can of soda (!), are just mannered paroxysms jammed in to give “edge” to a straight-to-cable narrative. Enervated and uselessly ugly, Surveillance does manage to create its own disturbing, alternate world, one where the worst criticisms flung at the director’s dad are actually true.

Cast: Julia Ormond, Bill Pullman, Pell James, Ryan Simpkins, French Stewart, Kent Harper, Michael Ironside, Caroline Aaron, Hugh Dillon, Cheri Oteri, Marc Miller, Gill Gayle, Shannon Jardine, Charlie Newmark, Anita Smith, Josh Strait, Kent Wolkowski Director: Jennifer Lynch Screenwriter: Kent Harper, Jennifer Lynch Distributor: Magnet Releasing Running Time: 97 min Rating: R Year: 2008 Buy: Video

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