Dir:Jennifer Lynch. US. 2008. 98mins.


Fifteen years after the career-killing debacle of Boxing Helena, Jennifer Lynch dares to raise her head above the parapet once more. Her return to film-making is not quite on a par with the resurrection of Lazarus but is certainly not an event that many could have foreseen. Eccentric thriller Surveillance shows no signs of any lasting impact on her self-confidence as it mixes together a lurid cocktail of jet black humour and bloodshed with a startling, left field plot twist. Very reminiscent of the surrealist, mannered sensibility on view in her father David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me or Lost Highway, Surveillance is definitely not a film with mainstream appeal. However, it should attract enough attention and support to ensure some kind of commercial viability as an offbeat cult attraction, especially onDVD.

On first acquaintance, Surveillance suggest the possibility of a fairly conventional Rashomon-whodunit as FBI Agents Hallaway (Pullman) and Anderson (Ormond) arrive to discover the truth about a bloodbath in which several people have died. Killers are on the loose and the body count is rising. Survivors Bobbi (James), eight year-old Stephanie (Simpkins) and injured police office r Jack Bennett (co-writer and co-producer Harper) are to be questioned on their side of the story to determine the truth about what has happened.

It quickly becomes apparent that this will be a far from conventional handling of the material. The local cops are twitching, defensive individuals who act in the most inappropriate manner. Flashbacks reveal a story populated by obnoxious, unsympathetic individuals, including office r Bennett and his partner who get their kicks terrorizing unsuspecting tourists on the highway. This becomes a nightmare scenario that unfolds in the bright light of day with piercing blue skies and golden cornfields captured in some sharp, clear cinematography from Peter Wunstorf.

The notion that everything is not as it first appears is underlined by interviews with survivors who are often economical with the truth. Flashbacks provide a surer sense of what really happened and reveal elements of character and motivation. Contrasts in the visual texture of the film come from the mixture of vivid colours and the bank of black and white surveillance monitor images where agent Hathaway watches the three interrogations unfold.

Surveillance holds the attention as it gradually allows the viewer to piece together the story but it also sacrifices that attention with crude lurches into buffoonish comedy and self-conscious excess. Several scenes feel like acting class exercises rather than a coherent element of the film. The result alternates between being fairly gripping and quite baffling although this may have been the intention as a means of luring viewers up the garden path.

All clenched jaw and clipped sentences at first, Pullman gradually abandons himself to a much more overwrought characterization that seems more in keeping with the ultimate tone of the film. You are just as likely to be laughing at him as with him, especially with the kind of intense, heavy-breathing that tips a nod to Dennis Hopper’s incarnation of evil in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet.

Surveillance feels like a film that belongs more naturally to the era of Blue Velvet or even Natural Born Killers. Audiences not attuned to its wavelength of politically incorrect comedy and soulless slaughter will be running for the nearest exit but there is enough intrigue and craft here to suggest it will not be another fifteen years before Lynch returns with her next brave effort.

Production companies
Arclight Films
Blue Rider Pictures
Lago Film

International sales
Arclight Films
(1) 310 777 8855

Kent Harper
Marco Mehlitz
David Michael s
Stephen Onda

Executive producers
Gary Hamilton
David Lynch
Harrison Kordestani

Jennifer Lynch
Kent Harper

Peter Wunstorf

Production design
Sara McCudden

Todd Bryanton

Daryl K Davis

Main cast
Bill Pullman
Julia Ormond
Pell James
Ryan Simpkins
Kent Harper