Now playing in theaters and on VOD
Bill Pullman as Hallaway
Julia Ormond as Anderson
Michael Ironside as Captain Billings
Pell James as Bobbi
Directed by Jennifer Lynch
How do you make a serial killer movie that doesn’t feel like something we have seen over and over again? Surveillance provides a good model and proves that sometimes less can be more. This odd and morbid film expertly utilizes an isolated location, a twisted sense of humor, an eclectic cast and an escalating sense of dread. It’s definitely one of the year’s best genre offerings.
Clearly produced for next to nothing (by Hollywood standards), director Jennifer Lynch’s first film since 1993’s infamous Boxing Helena demonstrates that she is one to watch. Opening with a quick, vicious attack on a couple, the action shifts to a small town police station. FBI agents Hallaway (Bill Pullman) and Anderson (Julia Ormond) have been tracking a serial killer (or killers) for months.
Something horrible has happened in the small town and numerous people are dead. How they died we do not yet know. The agents set up shop and begin interviewing an officer, a little girl and a young woman.
The interviews take place simultaneously. Anderson talks to the girl, two officers interview the woman and Captain Billings (Michael Ironside) questions the cop. Hallaway sits back and monitors each one. The action flashes back to the crime scene as the witnesses tell their stories. Bit by bit we discover what really happened and who was responsible for it.
Since most of the story is told via flashbacks, pacing is vital. Surveillance does an excellent job building tension and keeping is guessing. We know whatever happened was horrific. Tantalizing morsels of information are dropped without ever revealing too much. There is a palpable sense of dread as events unfold and the truth becomes clearer. The rural locations are also an asset. Nearly every scene takes place in the police station or the scene of the crime, a desolate two-lane highway. The isolation only increases our anxiety.
Another facet of the movie that enhances the mounting dismay is its off kilter humor. The behavior of the cops is a perfect example of this. Two of them, for kicks, shoot out the tires of unsuspecting motorists prior to terrorizing them. Eventually they let them go, but not before some psychological damage has been inflicted. These scenes, while strange and amusing, help maintain a slightly unbalanced mood.
The resolution is just icing on the cake. Some have said they saw it coming but this viewer did not. Either way, it suits the movie perfectly and feels right. It is hard to imagine genre fans being disappointed by Surveillance. While it’s no Seven, this is a high-quality serial killer tale that is genuinely suspenseful.