The fearsome totality of surveillance cameras in contempo life is the dark underpinning of Adam Rifkin’s “Look,” which requires a considerable suspension of disbelief that may work for some auds. Unexpectedly amusing and inevitably disturbing, pic portrays a series of dramas and lighter incidents strictly through the view of fixed vidcams. Conceit often stretches — and breaks — the limits of what the tales can handle, though the implication of viewers as voyeurs gives pic a subversive edge. Winner of the CineVegas grand jury prize, this is the sort of talking-point movie that energizes fests and possibly distribs, with vid future in the offing.
Though much of the action is set in and around the Northridge Fashion Center in the San Fernando Valley, writer-director Rifkin generally takes pains to suggest any American city whose citizens are under constant surveillance.
Department store manager Tony (Hayes MacArthur) has his randy ways with nearly every woman on the floor, and gets especially frisky in the seeming privacy of the storeroom. First seen in one of the changing rooms, self-styled high school Lolitas Sherri (Spencer Redford) and Holly (Heather Hogan) try on clothes, preparing for Sherri’s plot to seduce her guileless teacher, Mr. Krebbs (Jamie McShane).
Meanwhile, Marty, a nerdy insurance salesman (Ben Weber), is the constant butt of pranks by male co-workers, and his pathetic passes at women in the lunchroom make him the firm’s persona non grata. Gradually, though, his other and rather shocking identity is revealed in pic’s final third, requiring one of several leaps of audience faith.
Far more believable are two male attorneys (Paul Schackman, Chris Williams) attempting to have an affair, as well as a convenience store clerk (Giuseppe Andrews) and his larky friends dealing with the so-called “Candid Camera Killers,” whose crimes have been caught on police car cameras. It’s here, and during a bomb threat on a bus, that Rifkin blends the actuality of electronic cameras with genuine tension.
Rifkin betrays a certain lack of faith in the concept’s built-in cinematic fascination by allowing plot elements to dominate, stealing attention away from the social tapestry the film has carefully created. At the same time, attentive viewers will begin to seriously question what has actually been going on: To wit, full audio accompanies every scene, even though standard surveillance cams of the sort seen here rarely, if ever, feature audio. Even more problematic is the sense that certain cameras (judging by their position and lens focal length) are much too close to subjects for them not to notice.
Given that the cameras frequently zoom in on a subject for dramatic effect, or that pic often cuts among multiple cameras covering a scene, it’s also fair to wonder who’s the mastermind behind the surveillance — just as it’s unclear whether the film intends such a question to linger in viewers’ minds.
On the other hand, “Look” has devised an ingenious visual encyclopedia of spy cams, from the standard types seen in stores to more exotic varieties lodged in ATMs and on bomb-sniffing robots (latter are used to suspenseful and humorous effect).Talented cast aside, the star of the show is unquestionably cinematographer Ron Forsythe, who aces his assignment to set and light dozens of high-def video monitors. Music by electronica composer BT is extremely intrusive. In a jokey and vividly staged car crash scene, director John Landis makes an uncredited cameo appearance as himself.