February 2, 2010

Rabid Rewind: Surveillance

Title: Surveillance
Starring: Bill Pullman, Julia Ormand, French Stewart, Michael Ironside
Directed by: Jennifer Lynch
Released: 2007
Genre: Paranormal Suspense; Horror

I learned two things from watching this psychological thriller: 1) French Stewart is pretty underrated as an actor; 2) a notable director and a strong cast do not necessarily make an enjoyable movie.

I saw a trailer for this movie a year or two ago and thought it looked quite promising. It had that air of other thrillers that I've enjoyed over the years, like Identity and Suspect Zero. So, when I saw it among the DVDs at the local rental shop, it sparked a memory of that trailer and I rented it. Surveillance, however, is nothing like either of those films I mentioned, and I ended up with a grim reminder of how I'm still susceptible to a compelling movie trailer.

The movie isn't terrible, by any stretch, but I think it gradually eroded as the story progressed. It starts off with two FBI agents, played by Bill Pullman and Julia Ormand, driving to a rinky-dink town in the middle of nowhere to investigate a mass murder that includes the death of one of the local police officers, played by French Stewart. Immediately upon arriving at the police station, you get the sense that the flashbacks are coming and they're going to be even creepier than the behavior of the officers and witnesses waiting for the agents at the station.

The flashbacks are played back to the audience with a very truthful portrayal of the events, only hiding pertinent details that will come into play towards the end of the film. In the present, Pullman and Ormand question three witnesses--a drug addicted blond with an attitude, a newly orphaned little girl, and the partner of the police officer who was murdered at the scene. Just about everyone is on edge and retelling events in their favor, especially the police headed by Michael Ironside in one of his better performances in recent memory. The murder scene in question involves a roadside massacre that's foreboded with each flashback scene during the questioning of the three witnesses. And it's all precipitated by the disturbing antics of two very bored and very amoral police officers who are staked out for speeders along a desolate patch of roadway.

I should have loved this movie, and would probably sing its praises, except for one glaring flaw. The ending, the big swerve, was telegraphed repeatedly during the first fifteen minutes of the movie. If you've seen these kinds of movies before, you'll likely end up like me, figuring out what the missing piece of the puzzle is very early, then be forced to sit through the other three-quarters of the films waiting to have your suspicions confirmed in rather anticlimactic fashion.

It seems that Jennifer Lynch was aiming more for atmosphere than action, more for miasma than mystery. The performances are pretty darned enjoyable on their own, as nearly everyone takes their characters and works them for all their worth. But, as far as plot goes, this movie was resting on wobbly legs.

David Lynch is credited as executive producer, but I think if you're looking for a memorable movie experience with Lynch's signature, I'd recommend finding one of his other movies, especially one he's directed himself. Heck, maybe Jennifer Lynch has better work out there too, but this is the first time I've heard of her.

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