At a glance:
Director Jennifer Lynch pulls out all stops to present a gruesome tale of sadistic serial killers; for the first two-thirds, it’s an intense thriller, but it turns pointlessly ugly and nasty for the finale
In an un-named area of the US mid-west, two sadistic cops get their kicks from shooting tires on passing cars, then torturing the drivers about speeding. These two guys are sick enough, but they look like saints compared to the other pair that is about to intersect their lives: a couple of world-class sadistic serial killers. The local cops get help in solving the case from a couple of visiting FBI agents: Sam Hallaway (Bill Pullman) and Elizabeth Anderson (Julia Ormond). Hallaway and Anderson spend most of the film conducting and/or observing ongoing interviews with the survivors: a young girl (Ryan Simpkins), an older druggie teen girl (Bobbi Prescott), and one of the sadistic cops (Kent Harper). There are the usual conflicts between cops and FBI trampling on each other in the same case and jurisdiction, and quit a few secrets waiting to be revealed. Surveillance is muddled at times, but is also intense and captivating – at least until its final third, when it grows so sick and bleak that it leapt out of the area that I consider an acceptable story.
I was lured into watching this film because I enjoyed Jennifer Lynch’s last feature, 1993’s Boxing Helena (which was only partially sadistic and had some elements of fantasy to salvage it). Surveillance is all reality: a no-holds-barred sadistic, gruesome tale. Lynch is unquestionably good at building suspense, but in the end, the story is so negative, sour, and gross, that it is hardly worth watching (except of course for fans of sick and perverse death). I don’t see the purpose in making fictional movies about events that actually could be worse than what has happened in real life. No matter how stylized it is, do we really need more ugliness in the world for its own sake? If you were able to stop watching two-thirds of the way through, you would have a good bloody thriller – after that, it becomes too depraved for my tastes. There’s nothing wrong with the performances, however; Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond both take to their roles with frightening gusto, and the supporting cast of unknowns are sometimes a little awkward, but that works.
Other reviewers said:
"The film takes an interesting premise and manages it to cram it through a meat grinder until you’re left with something that you wouldn’t really want to eat in the first place."
-Kevin Kelly (Spoutblog)
"I may be perverse, but after a David Lynch movie I feel elated, with a renewed zest for life; after this film I felt queasy, not with the horror of the story, but at the cheapness of its world view. It's an ugly thing."
-Sheila Seacroft (Floatation Suite)
This review was the winner of the prestigious 'Best Moron Child Review' for 2009! See the comments for more details!