WFF Review: Surveillance

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[Review is graciously provided by Bob Doto care of our friends at Quiet Earth.]

Surveillance One Sheet

Every five minutes while watching Surveillance, my appreciation of the film shifted. My first thought after having seen roughly 15-20 super low-budget shorts over the course of a weekend, was “Oh. This is a ‘real movie’ with a budget.” Then I thought “But, it’s kind of got a low-budget feel to it. I like that.” Then I’m thinking to myself “Why is Bill Pullman acting like he’s got to go to the bathroom all the time?” Then I was like, “This movie is soooooo dramatic.” After which I thought, “Why are they making it so obvious that I’m not supposed to see certain key clues in the story? That’s annoying.” Then of course, “God. Did you have to show me all that violence in such detail?” And finally as the ending started to unfold, “Ooooooh. Now I get it. You got me. Now I like it.” What a frickin’ rollercoaster.

What’s amazing about writer/director Jennifer Chambers Lynch (Boxing Helena, daughter of David and Peggy Lynch) and writer Kent Harper is not that they convinced me to loath every single character in their film (including that practically mute and supposed to be likable pig-tailed wunderkind), but that I actually stayed around to see what became of their fates. Frankly, when you’ve seen as many films as I have at this year’s NYHFF, you just don’t get off that easy. If your story revolves around the lives of absolutely despicable and heinous beat cops, a heartless lying junky and her equally stellar boyfriend, and a family of oblivious yuppies you’ve got to give me something besides beautiful Southwestern desert to keep me from bailing.

How did they do it?

Well, A. I’m a sucker for the way this film is shot: nice and wide, naturalistic, scenically understated. B. The characters were so awful to one another that I almost couldn’t leave without seeing if what I was in fact seeing was true. C. Bill Pullman’s twitchy mouth. Weird! And D. I just wasn’t sure if what I was watching was an example of dramatic genius or totally ignorant as to what makes character relations believable. I THINK it leans closer to dramatic genius, but it is held back by its overt occultation of information.

And what, may you ask, is “overt occultation of information?” That is the annoyance of a movie that doesn’t show you what the little girl in the interrogation room drew with crayons when everyone else in the film sees it and practically craps their pants. It’s also when the same little girl whispers into someone’s ear something really profound, but you don’t get to hear it because we’re obeying the laws of third-person semi-omniscience (but only when it’s convenient). It’s a ten-cent trick suitable only for the worst of television drama.

So, what’s to think about this film? I can’t give it more than seven, because it exemplifies the worst of manipulative dramatic cinema, but I can give it a solid seven because the film is rather stunning to watch and the story will definitely catch you off guard.