My notes on Jennifer Lynch’s Surveillance (2008).Boxing Helena, writer-director Jennifer Lynch’s first feature, was the sort of film it takes fifteen years to live down – reputedly a hot project, famous for a lawsuit about who didn’t star in it, and so grotesquely poor that it didn’t even rate an afterlife as a cult camp item. Surveillance is at least calmer, and more like a real film – though it is littered with all manner of nastiness, from bored traffic cops humiliating law-abiding citizens Bad Lieutenant-style to prank-playing serial killers letting a little girl go free because they recognise a potential kindred spirit. The tricky format has smart-suited FBI agents Elizabeth Anderson (Julia Ormond) and Sam Hallaway (Bill Pullman) taking over the investigation of a complicated cluster-hump of crimes that have taken place in the middle of nowhere – and supervising the interrogations of the survivors, jittery crooked cop Bennet (Kent Harper), jittery junkie chick Bobbi (Pell James) and creepily calm little girl Stephanie (Ryan Simpkins). Sam has video monitors so he can keep track of three interviews conducted simultaneously (a movie trick rather than credible detective work), as flashbacks fill in the story of how Bennet and his equally gun-happy partner (French Stewart), Stephanie’s squabbling middle-class family, Bobbi and her loser boyfriend (Mac Miller) and some fright-masked serial killers pile into each other out on the highway and many of the characters wound up dead in the dirt.
Like every film which tries an approach like this, publicity evokes Rashomon – though the flashbacks we see are not subjective. Rather than having stories which contradict each other, the film presents self-serving voice-overs which segue into unflattering stories — Bobbi refers to ripping off a dope dealer who ODs during their meet as ‘a job interview’, Bennet talks about helpfully upholding the law while we see him abusing innocents, etc., though the little girl seems always to be truthful if evasive. Vital bits of information are withheld and have to be filled in later, to tie up a downbeat twist which is almost studied in its nihilist amorality. It’s all an exercise in misdirection, referring to of Twin Peaks (Lynch wrote the novel spinoff which became Fire Walk With Me) in the friction between slightly eccentric, if sharply-dressed (‘fuckable’) feds and the simmering, outclassed, juvenile local cops (Michael Ironside is the dignified, if slow chief). This pays off in a very different way here than it did in the TV show. It has moments of scripted subtlety – a character who steps out of the story because she has a date with the town coroner later turns up murdered – but too often simply plays cute, with major contrivances to keep the plot balls up in the air.
Pullman and Ormond, veterans of David Lynch films, are fine in the lead roles, and everyone else does what they need to in necessarily limited parts – the witnesses and other cops are naturally subordinate, and this is a movie where it doesn’t do to get too attached to anyone since they almost certainly won’t be around very long. It plays better as a feature-length tease than it does as a study of the dark side of human nature – for its big twists are so hokey that the nagging misanthropy gets swallowed by ‘fooled you!’ taunts.
Damon Wise The biggest problem with Surveillance is that, because it wasn’t very good, nobody ran anything on Jennifer Lynch, who has to be one of the best interviews ever…
Sean Smithson Surveillance was uber predictable. I knew where he thing was going within 15 minutes. But it’s greatest sin is that it was an utter bore “getting there”.
Grace Ker I haven’t seen this, but being such a huge fan of David Lynch, I am slightly afraid of approaching films by his daughter lest they don’t turn out to be good…
Kirstie Elizabeth Surveillance was great! Great twist, dark humour..I want to see Boxing Helena, but can’t get it on rental!!
Faith Clements I really liked Surveillance & nearly picked up a Boxing Helena directors cut laserdisc set a while back.
Adam-Troy Castro Aside from the nightmare of the bored traffic cops humiliating the motorists, which was effective and unrelenting, I despised it.
The one person I knew who had seen this said: ‘Oh! It’s Awful!’ with such vehemence I felt startled – I wondered if he had a personal beef with one of the cast or crew. So when I saw it, I was, indeed, pleasantly surprised. I really enjoyed it, tho I wouldnt say it in front of a grand jury, a solid evening’s entertainment, I thought. Probably not the kind of praise anyone wants – I thought of it as a pacey. modern version of one of the great poverty row noirs. Boxing Helena, I’ve seen it and can’t remember a thing about it. Criminal for a movie that was to be the big screen baptism of one of the screen’s most desirable and smoking sexpots. It promised to be a film with ‘The Most Outrageous Ever!’ as a hype sticker on the poster. Why, I am moved to remember many a story in Empire mag and similar prior to release, relating the incredible happenings in both script and production. ‘What!?’ I was heard to cry. Sadly, the end result had all concerned sneaking out of the premiere wearing disguises, holding newspapers in front of faces, etc. Times change tho, and i predict Jennifer will be the subject of an article charging she was the victim of sexism, while the Old Man gets away with peddling all varieties of baloney. And that might be a bit true! (a sappy voice bleats: ‘consciousness and blissthp!’)