Review: Surveillance

Directed by: Jennifer Lynch
Written by: Jennifer Lynch, Kent Harper
Starring: Bill Pullman, Julia Ormond, Kent Harper, Michael Ironside, Pell James, French Stewart
Released: 2009 / Genre: Suspense/Thriller / Country: USA / IMDB
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It must have been difficult to grow up in the David Lynch household. He appeared to make it his personal vendetta to infuriate audiences with some of the most obscure and maddeningly unconventional films of the last few decades. If the man led as offbeat a life away from the cinema screen then you can only expect the formative years of his kids to gain the attention of child protection service’s eager attention. As daughter Jennifer returns to writing-directing her own work with Surveillance – a macabre, violent film that threatens to overload the senses and quicken heartbeats past acceptable working levels – it becomes evident that her father’s penchant for the dark side of the human condition hasn’t gone unnoticed.

surveillance, jennifer lynch, film, bill pullman,

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Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond are two FBI agents on the hunt for a pair of violent killers who are being tracked in connection with several deaths. When three witnesses surface after a brush with the wanted pair, Pullman and Ormond head for the local Sheriff’s base to interview them. There they find the station’s staff chaperoning a little girl, a cocaine addict, and a cop. As they begin to piece together what happened it becomes obvious that not everyone is telling the truth.

You could criticise Lynch’s film for not managing to hide its twist. I knew what was going on within fifteen minutes and thought that might hamper the proceeding hour but, happily, it doesn’t. What Lynch does so well is crank the tension up to breaking point. The twist isn’t the defining factor; because the audience has figured it out it becomes exciting to see when or if the characters will discover what’s going on.

Interestingly, Lynch uses flashback to great effect, highlighting how the witnesses distort the facts to protect themselves but showing to the audience what really occurred. Pullman and Ormond are there to collect statements on the event concerning the wanted killers but Lynch keeps the audience teetering on the edge of well-worn seats by holding back the information until the hour mark. Admittedly, some of the build-up feels extraneous and could become infuriating on repeat viewings but with every character proving to be an enigma, the unseen and unknown event they all survived proves to be an attractive hook.

Pullman and Ormond are great as Good Fed, Weird Fed, and are ably supported by co-writer Kent Harper who gives himself the role of a bent patrolman who abuses his own power. The film, although featuring a small cast, is filled with interesting characterisations, especially Harper and his partner Jim Conrad (played by Third Rock From The Sun star French Stewart) who together make one of the nastiest examples of the police since Ray Liotta terrorised Kurt Russell and Madeliene Stowe in Unlawful Entry. An on-form Michael Ironside also shows up as the aging Captain Billings.

Jennifer Lynch’s film as writer-director is a taut, macabre, edge-of-the-sofa thriller. She’s definitely a filmmaker to keep an eye on.

Review by Daniel StephensSee all reviews

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Custard Reply

    Very well said!

    I haven’t seen this but have been meaning to for a very long time. One of my friends works for the production company and was banging on about it for ages before it was released. But I just forgot (in typical Custard style).

    Is it really heavy going?

  2. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    Custard: No, it isn’t heavy going at all. It gripped me from start to finish. Knowing how the film plays out I’m not sure how well it will stand up to repeat viewing but it’s well worth seeing at least once. Perhaps, given its twisty nature, watching it for a second time will actually bring out a whole new perspective on the story.

  3. Avatar
    Rodney Reply

    Until now, I hadn’t heard of this film. Now it seems like I’m gonna have to check it out. Thanks for the review, Dan!

  4. Avatar
    filmgurl Reply

    Interesting review. I’ve had this one in the back of my mind, I was a bit up in the air about giving it a look. Though, I may just do that now that I’ve read your write-up. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  5. Avatar
    Richard Reply

    Great reveiw, Dan. I saw this a while ago and really enjoyed it. I was also disappointed that the twist was so obvious, and I seem to remember the alternative ending on the DVD being better than the actual one.

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    Fitz Reply

    I saw this at the library and considered grabbing it, but then thought better of it.

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    Dirtywithclass Reply

    I think i saw the trailer for this one before. I will see if i can get it on netflix

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    Goregirl Reply

    Surveillance has been in my queue for a very long time. I think memories of Ms. Lynch’s Boxing Helena have lingered in my mind and prevented me from actually picking this up. Your positive review has intrigued me, I will be brave and move this further up in the queue. Plus Bill Pullman’s appearance is a definite bonus.

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