In a righteous world, over-the-top, violence-laden shocker “Surveillance” would have gone straight to ancillary, where it might have been discovered and feted by a few cult-fare obsessives as a mildly amusing trifle with one of the genre’s dafter plot twists. However, pic’s presence at the 2008 Cannes fest cellophanes pic with more class than it deserves, inviting possibly ungenerous thought that it was programmed just because it’s helmed by Jennifer Lynch (whose only previous feature was 1993’s “Boxing Helena”), daughter of the revered David Lynch. Nevertheless, watch and see if “Surveillance” doesn’t end up pretty quickly in the bargain bins.
Action kicks off in an unnamed small burg in the middle of a desert. A couple is attacked in the night by two masked serial killers, who quickly despatch the husband and do something unseen but no doubt nasty to the wife.
Later, FBI agents Elizabeth Anderson (Julia Ormond) and Sam Hallaway (Bill Pullman) ride into town to take over the investigation of a recent mass shooting on the highway, sure that the perpetrators are the same killers they’ve been stalking. At the police station, the surviving witnesses and various implausibly unprofessional cops are assembled in rooms where the agents’ video cameras record the interrogations.
Story switchbacks between the cool-toned present and supersaturated flashbacks as each interviewee, “Rashomon”-style, recalls what they saw. Lying about how he and his dead partner’s (French Stewart) own taunting of motorists had a hand in the mayhem, Officer Jack Bennett (Kent Harper, pic’s co-writer along with helmer Lynch) tells his version. This differs somewhat from the accounts given by cokehead Bobbi Prescott (Pell James), whose b.f. (Mac Miller) was killed, and little girl Stephanie (Ryan Simpkins), whose whole family was wiped out by the same two masked killers that killed the couple in the pre-credit sequence.
Ludicrously unrealistic details (like the idea that the Violent Femmes’ sweary but rousing tune “Add It Up” would be playing on an American radio station, even a college rock one) and hammy overacting (by Harper especially at first, but topped later on by Ormond and Pullman) distract as story plods along, and then goes into an out-of-control tailspin with the twist’s revelation.
Helmer’s use of creepy sound and stabby little insert shots of creepy stuff recalls her father’s work in earlier films, but without being truly unsettling, or even all that scary. Horror fans are likely to guess the twist and feel bored; the more faint-of-heart may simply feel repulsed. And bored.
Tech credits are OK, but nothing special. Locations used are actually in Saskatchewan, Canada.