It would be hard not to avoid imparting some judgment upon Surveillance from the word go. And it's not just me; whenever I've mentioned my going to see the film everyone (and I mean everyone) has jumped on the critic bandwagon, groaning at the mere mention of it. It's not just the mention of the film's title though that's getting people going (most people I've spoken to have missed its run around the film circuit), no it's the director's name that causes such a stir.
Yes, one very famous name. Surname to be precise - Lynch. Of course, if it were the man himself, most people would be clambering to see it and marvelling at his work with Blue Velvet (1986). Not so when it's his daughter, Jennifer Chambers Lynch. No, no. When it's the offspring of someone famed for their art, there are protests about how genuine their talents are and how, perhaps, they couldn't have made it possible without the help of a certain someone funding their projects (yes, Sofia Coppola, I'm talking about you).
Okay, whilst it may be true that for Lynch Junior's latest venture, her second film to date (she made her debut with Boxing Helena in 1993), daddy has certainly helped in transforming it from script to screen, her efforts can hardly go unnoticed. Nevertheless, it would be a failure on my part to say that it's just her dad's money that's helped her out; there is more than a drop of Lynch Senior's creative blood in her work.
Speaking of blood, there's a lot of it in this movie. I mean, once a bit of fading-in and fading-out business is over with, the first thing we're greeted with is the brutal massacre of a man asleep in his bed and a high-pitch ringing sound that penetrates the eardrums to the point where its almost unbearable. The man's wife escapes, but it's unlikely she'll get far with these masked predators (there were obviously props from The Elephant Man (1980) going spare) on her tail.
Now, being that this is small-town America, people, it's unlikely the local cops are going to be of much use solving this case. Enter the feds, FBI agents Elizabeth (Julia Ormond) and Sam (Bill Pullman), who have been working on the extensive file of homicides committed by the murderers. They've been sent in to deal with another lead in the inquiry, now that there's three witnesses that is: officer Bennet (Kent Harper), junkie Bobbi (Pell James) and little-girl Stephanie (Ryan Simpkins) who saw the killing of her family.
Once differences have been put aside between the feds and the cops, the process of shuffling the witnesses into their individual interview rooms can begin. Whilst the district police are divided between their co-worker and Bobbi, gentle Elizabeth takes on Stephanie; all three rooms watched by takes-no-bullshit Sam.
And so the plot thickens, as the audience is invited to take a step-back into the past with each of the testifiers, the audience learns more about the events leading up to this additional murder and how their stories are intertwined. Not only this, however, the audience also learns the extent of the honesty of their stories, with all of them, except Stephanie, twisting the truth to conceal parts of themselves they'd rather keep hidden. But it's hard to keep some things to oneself. True feelings, for instance, as Elizabeth and Sam find out, are the most challenging to put aside. And that pesky kid you think is so innocent, drawing those cute pictures, well, they know a whole lot more than one might think.
And that's the trick with this movie, to follow Stephanie's eyes and watch every detail. Doing so might keep you one step ahead... That's the great thing about this movie, it keeps you hooked, keeps you watching, waiting for some little clue to reveal itself. And then it does, in the form that you might have least expected (or not, if you've been paying close attention).
Lynch Junior might not silence her critics just yet, but I think she might be on her way. She's certainly stepping on to her father's territory, and why not if it works? Just be prepared for even riskier ground than that of the infamous Frank (although the man who tries to succeed him here doesn't nearly pull it off with as much panache as Dennis Hopper); even her dad's calling her "the sickest bitch" he knows.