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maryann johanson, ruining movies since 1997

Surveillance (review)

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.)


MPAA: rated R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some drug use and a scene of aberrant sexuality

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
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