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DVD Review: Surveillance (2008)

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For those of you who may be wondering, weirdness is a hereditary trait. Take David Lynch’s daughter, Jennifer, for example. Her latest creepy indie flick, Surveillance proves that she has captured some of her father’s legendary gonzo moviemaking skills. But whether or not she knows how to use such skills remains to be seen. Surveillance emerges as a good film — certainly better than most run-of-the-mill “creepy psychological thrillers” that seem to dominate the indie home video market these days — but it is far from perfect.

The story here involves two rather odd FBI agents (Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond), who arrive in an unnamed Midwestern town to interview three witnesses to a horrific county road massacre involving several vehicles, committed by two unknown assailants. The agents set up three interview rooms and go about conducting their interrogations, all the while filming them via video cameras.

In room one, we have the an angry police officer (Kent Harper, who looks like Scott McCulloch from The Kids In The Hall and also co-wrote the story with Jennifer Lynch) who's lost his partner (French Stewart — yes, it turns out that French is alive and well). Room two houses a despondent little girl (Ryan Simpkins), whose entire family was murdered (played by Hugh Dillon, Kent Wolkowski, and Cheri Oteri, who seems to get killed in just about every “serious” movie she’s in — I’m guessing filmmakers observed some of her really painful SNL skits and sought revenge). Finally, behind door number three, we have a coked-out junkie (Pell James) who recounts how her equally doped-up boyfriend (Mac Miller) was killed during the rural slaughter.

Surveillance shifts from one person’s flashback to another (no, it’s not an anthology film, in case you’re wondering). Naturally, all of the adults lie through their teeth: the crooked cop (who could become a decorated member of my local law enforcement agency in a heartbeat) evades the fact that he and his partner were shooting out the tires of passers-by in order to extort money from them. The junkie “neglects” to mention that a “job interview” she and her beau were attending was really a trip to the dealer’s pad. And so on and so forth. Only the little girl is honest, but her dejection and youthful age make it easy for the grownups to pay no heed to the truth she spouts. Very little information is ever given to the mysterious killers themselves — who are more like the common link between the three stories.

Our actors turn in fine performances (especially Harper, who very well should, considering he also co-produced). Co-starring in the creepy thriller are Caroline Aaron, Gill Gayle, Charlie Newmark, and the great Michael Ironside as a police captain. In another fine example of “keeping it in the family,” Surveillance bears David Lynch’s name as an executive producer.

As is customary in psychological thrillers with the name “Lynch” attached to them, the movie is very dark. The message of the story seems to say “Nope — no hope here, either” while the ending contains the proverbial twist. And, while the not-so-frequent (aka “novice”) film-goer may find themselves glued to the screen over Surveillance’s taut story and the younger Lynch’s ability to tell said tale, the more experienced (or “jaded,” as some of us prefer to say) viewer will no doubt see through the film’s guise in a manner of minutes.

Surveillance hits DVD courtesy of Magnet Releasing and Magnolia Home Entertainment. The movie is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, with a rather good sense of color balancing (it’s a dark film set in the overcast plains of the Midwest, so don’t expect The Sound Of Music, okay?) and decent contrast (the black levels leave a bit to be desired, and appear quite grainy at times).

Accompanying the film are two soundtracks: English 5.1 Dolby Digital and English 2.0. While the 5.1 is the better of the two, most of the movie is played out through the front and center speakers so you won’t miss much if you simply watch the film with the stereo audio track. The only subtitle option here is Spanish, which is a pity, as there’s a bit of mumbling to be had in this one.

Several special features are included on this disc. They begin with an audio commentary by Jennifer Lynch and actors Mac Miller and Charlie Newmark, and conclude with two featurettes (“Surveillance: The Watched Are Watching” and “HDNet: A Look At Surveillance”), two deleted scenes, and an alternate ending. A couple of previews for other Magnet releases are located at the beginning of the disc.

The bottom line: regular David Lynch fans will want to seek this one out just to see how his daughter fares if nothing else. As I said before, the more film-weary onlookers will have the whole thing sussed out in no time. But that doesn’t mean you hardened movie buffs shouldn’t view it: it’s still worth a watch.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.