Hunting a vicious serial killer, FBI agents Hallaway (Pullman) and Anderson (Ormond) pitch up at a police station to question three survivors and the cops who saved them. But with the stories failing to match up, can anyone be trusted and is anybody saf
So, in the spirit of this sadistic, time-shifty thriller, let’s start with a pain-inducing flashback. Back in 1993, Jennifer Lynch, director daughter of David, unleashed Boxing Helena. A grotesquely silly amputation love story, the result was such a gobbling turkey you’d think she’d actually been raised by Bernard Matthews, and she hasn’t set foot on a movie set since. Until — flash-forward — now.
The material luring Lynch back for a second shot is, at least, considerably cooler than the overcooked Helena. Surveillance traces the hunt for a serial killer through a series of FBI interviews conducted by agents Pullman and Ormond. Under interrogation are a cop, a kid and a cokehead, and, through saturated flashback, three very different accounts emerge of a roadside massacre. Imagine a lumpy blend of Rashômon and Natural Born Killers and you get the picture. Although it’s unlikely the picture will get to you.
After a 15-year break, and with the old man on producing duties, you can’t help but wonder if visionary weirdness runs in the blood. Sure enough, the abrasive violence, black wit and abstract moose-in-a-subway background rumble That Tells Us Horrible Things Are About To Happen have dripped down from Dad. But where the films of Lynch Sr. are rich in ambiguous emotion, this is practically comatose. There’s also a hell of a lot of coffee served, which is very Twin Peaks, if not a subliminal hint — really, only caffeine will get you through this.
The set-up takes an ice age, and once the flashbacks kick in the cast are so obnoxiously hammy or downright glacial, you’re sub-zeroed into your seat. Nobody seems human, let alone likable. It’s a fatal disconnect, and by the time a see-it-coming twist throws everything off balance, your interest is already heading for the exit. Deadweight dialogue (“They call them witnesses... because they see things”) only compounds the zone-out.
Bill Pullman gives it his all in a deeply strange, neck-cricking turn, but Lynch’s approach to character is so numbingly nihilistic, Surveillance isn’t so much feel-bad as feel-nothing. It’s all posture and no passion, more interested in its own bleak chic than the audience or, God forbid, actually scaring us.
Trashy material, arty approach, Lynchs comeback is harsh, puzzling and mostly weird-bad.