The movie “Surveillance” marks a return to writing and directing for David Lynch’s daughter, Jennifer, the 40-year-old who won an award as Worst Director in 1993 for her directing of the critically panned film “Boxing Helena.” [This was the film that Madonna left to make “Evita” and, eventually, the film that caused a lawsuit to be lodged against Kim Basinger, who also walked away from that sick plot. That 1993 film was another weirdly themed Lynch movie, roundly criticized for its “violence-against-women” theme.]
This time out, Jennifer Chambers Lynch has co-scripted a film on a topic that is equally offensive, sharing writing credit with Kent Harper, who does double duty portraying character Jack Bennet, one of the police officers in the remote rural crime scene town. Jennifer Lynch also wrote The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer to accompany her father’s television series, “Twin Peaks.” Interestingly enough, Chambers Lynch has been quoted as saying that the film was originally going to be a film about witches.
Instead, it is a film about a murder in that desolate town, which sets off a killing spree by the 2 serial killers. Who are the killers? Where might they strike next? What is their motive? All these questions need answers.
“Surveillance” is the story of the subsequent search for the 2 serial killers and the answers to those questions. There is gore aplenty in the opening sequences, featuring the attack on an unsuspecting sleeping couple in their home. The terror-struck wife flees the crime scene and is stalked and captured by the psychotic duo. Police are searching for the MIA victim.
Enter lead actors Bill Pullman (“Independence Day,” “Lake Placid”) as FBI investigator Sam Hallaway, accompanied by his partner Julia Ormond (“First Knight”). The two seem to be a romantic item as well. They arrive to coordinate the investigation with Captain Billings (Michael Ironside of “Scanners”), but there is resistance from the other officers, DeGrasso (Gil Gayle), who has a bad attitude, and Officer Wright (Charlie Newmark), who seems as dense as a box of rocks. The blonde 8-year-old girl who has witnessed the crime(s) and isn’t saying much will need to be interviewed, as will the surviving female drug addict and the redheaded police officer (Harper) whose partner was killed on the highway while investigating the crime(s).
Police, in general, are depicted in an unfavorable light by the filmmakers. Cops are corrupt, dishonest, abuse their power, and are neither fair nor intelligent in this film. When Captain Billings tells Bill Pullman’s FBI Investigator that he is confused in one scene, Pullman’s character responds, “You should be used to that by now.” This film will definitely not amuse those who have taken an oath to “protect and serve.” The men in blue have good cause to dislike the observations made about them.
There are 3 people who may be able to shed light on the killers’ identities and whereabouts. One is the 8-year-old girl, Stephanie (Ryan Simpkins) whose entire family (mother, stepfather, brother) has been gunned down before her eyes while in a car en route to a four-day vacation.
The second is a drug-addled beautiful blonde, Bobbi Prescott (Pell James) who has also witnessed the death of her boyfriend on the same highway.
The third witness is one of the responding officers, Jack Bennet (Kent Harper) whose partner was shot and killed at the highway crime scene. The van on the highway where the bloodbath occurs may (or may not) have contained the kidnapped woman who was taken from the original bedroom crime scene.
David Lynch’s movies are always weird, intense, and gory. Lynch films (father and, now, daughter) cross the line both thematically and in terms of their surreal imagery. In terms of this movie, the old saying that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” applies. Jennifer’s take in this outrageously psychopathic film is just as over-the-line as her father’s work has always been. In fact, Jennifer started young appearing in her father’s film “Eraserhead” when she was only 9 and working on “Blue Velvet” when only 18m so she is no stranger to the weird, the intense and the eccentric.
I noticed a few people heading for the exit as the film reached its psychopathic climax. I don’t think they were on their way to the rest room; they never returned. However, the gory violence and sado-masochistic theme didn’t keep the film from being named Best Motion Picture at the recent Sitges International Film Festival of Catalonia, and it is well done.
It’s always difficult, in this day and age, to find a “surprise” ending. We all love a “Sixth Sense,” but it gets harder and harder to deliver a “surprise” to a jaded audience. This film managed to deliver one—no small feat— but that’s all I’m going to tell you, for fear of spoiling it.
There were some themes buried in the dialogue. Little Stephanie says, “They thought it was a secret, but it wasn’t” of her mother and her stepfather’s affection for one another. The statement resonates throughout the film for a variety of reasons. Images of camera lenses dominate the film, which seems appropriate, given its title “Surveillance.”
There are some funny lines. For example, the policeman (played by co-writer Harper) says, “I’m a good cop’ and is told, “That’s a total oxymoron.” At another point, Bill Pullman tells the pretty young wonan who has survived the killings, “You probably read the end of a book first. That’s no way to live.” There’s a scene where a “bad cop” has placed a gun in one character’s mouth after stopping him for speeding and tells the terrified man, (while making him suck on the barrel of his gun), “I’m all about safety.” There’s even a wry comment on family vacations, when Stephanie’s brother asks the traditional question, “Are we there yet?” Cheri Oteri (SNL alumnus who frequently co-starred with Will Farrell as one of the hyper Spartan cheerleaders) has the line, in regards to the disastrous vacation trip, “I’m not really havin’ a very good time.” Smoking is also skewered.
I enjoyed the imagery that Ms. Lynch employed, with her close-ups of dead birds in the road and abandoned farm implements in a desolate desert area. Even the store names (“Cum & Stay”) amused, but the plot, as it unfolds, is anything but amusing. Terrifying, perhaps. Psychotic, for sure. Weird, definitely. Sick in the way that all sociopaths are, and, finally, entertaining in its attention to and examination of the details of weird, erotic serial killer sexuality.