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Julia Ormond
Bill Pullman
Pell James
Ryan Simpkins
French Stewart
Kent Harper.
Jennifer Chambers Lynch.
Jennifer Chambers Lynch
Kent Harper.
Running Time
97 minutes

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Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond star

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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 safe?

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, Lynch’s comeback is harsh, puzzling and mostly weird-bad.

Reviewed by Simon Crook

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Surveillance
Empire Star Rating

another miss by empire ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by david hayes at 06:35, 26 January 2011 | Report This Post

Blunt and Brutal

***BEWARE SPOILERS*** Gripping and gruesome...does exactly what it says on the tin. I just saw this movie on 'Sky Anytime' and enjoyed it. I can see why people don't like it, its blunt and brutal. The reason I like it is it kept me gripped. I felt tense and had this sick feeling in my stomach throughout the whole movie. The film affected me, and I like that in a movie. The one thing that I thought could have done better is when the 2 FBI agents revealed their true identit... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by djabacus at 20:26, 01 January 2010 | Report This Post

I Hated It.

Agh, this looked good on a tralier but when I actully watched the film it was awful. Taking nearly half a hour for the film to really begin with the action at the hour mark and the twist near the end, this film didn't make me gripped to the edge of my seat. None of the characters were likeable or you would feel something for them, I just hated the film throughout and the ending ended stupidly. Not high on my rating at all. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by joanna likes films at 19:01, 13 July 2009 | Report This Post

Good thriller... Who is the bigger baddas? There's always bigger fish! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ARmy2510 at 23:29, 07 April 2009 | Report This Post

I loved the film, I actually saw it last year in france, didn't know anything about it, but I left very happy, Clever, unexpected, creepy, and sometimes funny. It is miles and miles ahead of the monstrosity that was Boxing Helena. And Ormond and Pullman play extremely agains type ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by omarx at 00:04, 02 April 2009 | Report This Post

RE: Surveillance

We didn't quite get the Rashomon thing, but we did get the 'Show the audience exactly what happened to contrast that with the interviewees verbal version of events which edited out some of their behaviour in an effort to make them look better people than they actually were' thing. That's the 'moral viewpoint' of the film and it's honesty or dishonesty about what they did and saw that seals the fate of every character. Might have helped some if the script expanded some of the dialogue such ... More

Posted by jobloffski at 09:56, 30 March 2009 | Report This Post

RE: Surveillance

Thought Empire where right on the money with their rating but not so much on the review as it comes across as if she tried to make one of her father's films when it's a pretty straight forward thriller. Also, before seeing it, I read quite a lot of reviews stating it was ripping off Roshomon in story telling technique but this wasnt true either as none of the characters give a different account of what went down, we're just shown how it actually happened. I think she definetly has potentia... More

Posted by davie_rfc at 20:22, 29 March 2009 | Report This Post

RE: Surveillance

Not too bad a film, some quite humorous and creepy moments, and even if (like me) you guess the twist almost right away, there's still a good film here (just view it as though you're seeing it for second time, first time). Jennifer Lynch, practically all is forgiven for Boxing Helena, though if it wasn't for your dad's films and the efforts I have made making sense of them, you coulda had me twist-wise. As it stands, for me the fun to be had here is being 'in on the joke' in all the ways t... More

Posted by jobloffski at 21:47, 28 March 2009 | Report This Post

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