Surveillance [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Magnolia Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (15th September 2009).
The Film

It’s been a long 15 years since Jennifer Lynch last thrust a film out into the world with 1993’s “Boxing Helena”. Though I was far too young at the time to see the film, or gauge the reaction to it, from what I have read it was critically derided and failed to generate much of a career for the first-time director. That’s a shame because “Surveillance” (2008) is a fantastic Lynch-ian (big surprise) thriller with a great twist and an interesting premise filled with some twisted performances. Lynch shows herself to be a capable director here while also indicating that her famous father, master auteur David Lynch, assisted in shaping her own vision as a filmmaker.

A brutal slaying in a small town within the Santa Fe desert attracts the attention of two FBI agents, Sam Hallaway (Bill Pullman) and Elizabeth Anderson (Julia Ormond), who must work with three survivors of a second attack to piece together who is responsible for the recent killings. As told in “Rashomon” (1950) -style fashion, the three survivors, crooked cop Jack Bennett (Kent Harper), drug addict Bobbi Prescott (Pell James) and 8-year-old Stephanie (Ryan Simpkins), recount their tales to the agents in hopes of identifying the killer. None of them is lying about any particular details, but they each know a little something more than the last which aids in piecing together the grisly events.

I must admit, I was taken aback by how much I enjoyed this dirty little flick. I’ve been a champion of David Lynch’s films for a long time now, but I hadn’t seen “Boxing Helena” and wasn’t sure how his daughter would fare in comparison to her famous father. I was concerned that it might be another Ridley Scott/Tony Scott situation, where the newly-directing family member (in this example, Tony) would so blatantly ape his famous relative’s style that it could be considered plagiarism. Jennifer imbues the picture with many of the same sensibilities that inhabit her father’s cinematic world, but she chooses to present them in such a way that they never feel cannibalized. The initial meeting between Agent Hallaway and Captain Billings (the awesome Michael Ironside) is unmistakably reminiscent of Agent Chester Desmond’s meeting with Sheriff Cable in “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” (1992). In fact, much of the interaction between the police officers and FBI agents plays out in a similar manner to those on the “Twin Peaks” (1990-1991) television series.

Each actor delivers a strong performance, but I found myself most surprised by two who are better known for their comedy. French Stewart, who many remember as the dim-witted, squinty-eyed Harry Solomon on “3rd Rock From the Sun” (1996-2001), delivers an astoundingly dark performance as Officer Jim Conrad. He injects the role with a deep layer of black comedy. At first I didn’t even recognize him because the last time I saw his face in anything it was some sequel to “Inspector Gadget” (1999). The games that he and his partner play with unsuspecting motorists come off like a much more perverse version of those on display in “Super Troopers” (2001). The other surprise was Cheri Oteri, she of “Saturday Night Live” (1975-Present) fame. She plays mother to 8-year-old Stephanie, and she shows she’s got some dramatic chops to work with on film. Minor comedic lines aside, her role is mostly relegated to crying and providing looks of utter shock at what unfolds in front of her eyes. One of my favorite things to see on film is an actor cast against type, and the decision to put these two comedic actors in a serious thriller was a wise decision that pays off in spades.

Lynch has a style that is very much her own, but the influence of her father is written allover this picture. Fans of all things Lynch would most likely find this film to be right up their alley. Comparisons are inescapable; there can be little doubt that Jennifer was heavily influenced by her father’s work but she manages to keep it from becoming full-on imitation. She uses the camera to slowly unfold the story before out eyes. Rather than telling us all of the facts up front, the viewers must attempt to piece together subtle clues hidden within the picture. I can think of few filmmakers I would like to see influence another’s work more than David Lynch, and I hope that “Surveillance” inspires Jennifer to make films at a much quicker rate than one every 15 years.

Video

The 2.35:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer looks incredibly sharp and detailed aside from one scene. I got a little nervous at first because the opening scene, which takes place at night, looked grainy and black levels seemed a little uneven. However, the remainder of the film with its sparse, deserted Canadian (standing in for Santa Fe) landscapes and hazy skies looks fantastic. Newer films such as this rarely have to worry about seeing their image filtered through excessive DNR use or edge-enhancement, and none of those technical imperfections is present here. I did find the colors to be a little on the red side of things, but not so much that it becomes a distraction. Whites look cool and serene. This is a crisp image with some great clarity. I’m glad to see that, although her father David has switched over to shooting on HD video, Jennifer still remains committed to using (superior) 35mm stock.

Audio

The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track mixed at 48kHz/24-bit perfectly renders the film’s unsettling, ambient soundscapes through each channel. Aside from a few gunshots and a car crash, the majority of this track relies heavily on dialogue and eerie, ambient sounds. Lynch must have learned a great deal from her father in regards to a film’s score because she knows how to turn up the tension by limiting what we as an audience hear. So often, filmmakers will sonically assault the viewers with loud, out of place stingers to elicit scares. It’s refreshing to watch a disturbing film that uses a more minimalist approach to build a sense of dread and foreboding.
Subtitles are available in English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

“Surveillance” has been given a decent selection of extras, even if the overall package is a little light in terms of length and information. The Blu-ray contains an audio commentary, deleted scenes, an alternate ending, featurettes and some bonus trailers.

An audio commentary is included with director Jennifer Lynch and actors Mac Miller and Charlie Newmark. The trio sound a bit like a group of kids with ADHD, running wild with stories from the set and constantly going off on a tangent from one aside to the next. Miller is easily the most manic, but Lynch manages to anchor the track just enough that it doesn’t completely spiral out of control. Some good information does come of it, but the hyper manner in which they all spout off at the mouth might annoy some listeners.

“Surveillance: The Watched Are Watching” is a featurette which runs for 15 minutes and 41 seconds. This behind-the-scenes look at the film’s production features interviews with all of the main cast and crew, as well as a look at the filming of some key scenes.

“HDNet: A Look at Surveillance” is a featurette which runs for 4 minutes and 42 seconds. I can’t recall if this ran on the HDNet channel or not, but this is basically an EPK which provides a brief overview of the film along with some quick interviews with the cast & crew.

Two deleted scenes and an alternate ending are available with optional audio commentary by director Jennifer Lynch for the following:

- “Scene 211: Latex Glove” runs for 5 minutes and 18 seconds, Sam and Elizabeth lather each other up with soap and take a bizarre, sexually-charged shower.
- “Scene 59: Keith and Tina Get Attacked” runs for 52 seconds, we witness the demise of the young couple seen earlier in the film.
- “Alternate Ending” runs for 6 minutes and 1 second, without giving too much away, things end drastically different. Personally, I prefer the ending the film’s current ending, although I do appreciated the original attempt to end things on an even darker note.

Bonus trailers are included for the following:

- “Mutant Chronicles” runs for 1 minute and 48 seconds.
- “Splinter” runs for 1 minute and 42 seconds.
- “Two Lovers” runs for 1 minute and 56 seconds.
- “The Life Before Her Eyes” runs for 2 minutes and 4 seconds.

Overall

The Film: B+ Video: B Audio: B+ Extras: C+ Overall: B

 


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