‘Surveillance’: Who’s watching who?

June 24, 2009

“Surveillance” is a grippingly grisly little film, a police whodunnit that’s also a terror-thriller of monstrous imagination from director Jennifer Lynch, daughter of David and director of the scabrously reviewed “Boxing Helena.”


In a small town that could be called Nowhere, N.M., a brutal multiple murder with the pattern of a team of serial killers brings the FBI swooping into town. Agents Hallaway (Bill Pullman) and Anderson (Julia Ormond) gather the survivors of a second incident at the local police station.


The witnesses’ stories and the truth rarely intersect, but Lynch shows what really happened in flashbacks to the actual events. Even then, there always seems to be a little more going on than the frame reveals.


Initially, the story seems to be about a pair of aggressively bad cops (French Stewart and Kent Harper), who intimidate, extort and otherwise abuse motorists they flag down in a speed trap. Are they the killers? Do they accidentally intercept the killers? In the script by Harper and Lynch, there are sudden, violent twists – and long, tense moments of potential violence – so that no one is quite sure what they saw. But they know they’re still in shock from it.


It’s cat-and-mouse – and the cat is firmly in control. When you finally catch on to Lynch’s game, it seems even more diabolical. She keeps the creepiness factor set on high, without resorting to atmospherics or sadism. It’s a nightmarishly straightforward thriller that moves to an inexorable conclusion.


Pullman’s Agent Hallaway is a tad prissy but all business, trying to get his work done, despite the intrusive ineptness of the local cops. Ormond is also no-nonsense, the quiet voice of reason who is unafraid of presenting a hard surface. They are both wickedly evocative performances.


“Surveillance” is one of those love it/hate it movies that leaves you shaken because it presents such a dark vision of the world. Enter at your own risk.



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