Surveillance (review)

Get new reviews in your email in-box or in an app by becoming a paid Substack subscriber or Patreon patron.

Jennifer Lynch is, like her famouser filmmaker dad David, totally demented. In a good way. Her second feature — a long time coming after 1993’s twisted Boxing Helena — is slow-boil sinister, delivering the kind of simmering menace that few films can bother to take the time for these days, it seems. FBI agents Bill Pullman (Bottle Shock) and Julia Ormond (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) arrive in middle-of-nowhere Middle America to investigate a serial-killing spree, with three groups of witnesses to question: a couple of sociopathic cops (a terrifying and unrecognizable French Stewart, and Kent Harper, who cowrote the script with Lynch); a family on vacation, including a little girl (Ryan Simpkins) with a keenly observant eye; and a pair of romantic junkies (Pell James [Zodiac] and Mac Miller). Edging right up to a place where discomfort becomes denial — as in, “I don’t want to be watching this” — Lynch juggle some very unsettling notions with an aplomb so casual it in itself becomes unsettling. I was mixed on this provocative and unnerving film when I saw it on a big screen: its evil is depicted as so banal (until, shockingly, it isn’t) as to feel a tad underpowered, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing, thematically speaking. But Pullman and Ormond, around whose work the film swirls, are astonishing in complex roles, and the film is well worth a look on DVD for their performances, as well as for Lynch’s mastery of pacing. (DVD extras, not reviewed, include deleted scenes, an alternate ending — though it’s hard to conceive of anything more perverse than what we get — commentary by Lynch, and more.)

share and enjoy
If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.
If you haven’t commented here before, your first comment will be held for MaryAnn’s approval. This is an anti-spam, anti-troll, anti-abuse measure. If your comment is not spam, trollish, or abusive, it will be approved, and all your future comments will post immediately. (Further comments may still be deleted if spammy, trollish, or abusive, and continued such behavior will get your account deleted and banned.)
notify of
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
view all comments
Tue, Aug 18, 2009 10:07pm

I really enjoyed this film….the performances, across the board were excellent, I thought.

Bill Pullman, in the beginning gave this really interesting vibe…like someone emotionally constipated.

Julia Ormond, wow, what she did, especially near the end of the film, was disturbing but sexy. The more her hair came down….the sicker and more erotic things became.

A lot of the reviews out there weren’t exactly glowing. Many critics, I noticed, seemed to take great pleasure in pointing out that Jennifer Lynch is NOT her father and never will be. Whatever. I dunno, I like what she did. In fact, I enjoyed my second viewing twice as much as the first. The thrill of “big reveal” paled in comparison to just soaking up the nuances of the performances.

Wed, Aug 19, 2009 9:51pm

Holy crap. I was unsettled from the opening credits. And really, watching this alone, in my living room with no curtains, on a rural dirt road after it’s dark out? Creepy does not begin to describe it.

I can’t believe it’s French Stewart! And Cheri Oteri from SNL – who knew?

This movie is messed up. And I mean that in the best of ways.

But still.


Sat, Dec 12, 2009 5:21pm

Hmm, it’s interesting that critics said Lynch was not like her father. ‘Cause at the end of this my first thought was, “She is her father’s daughter”. Maybe not as polished as his films, but you could switch their names as director and I wouldn’t blink.