Surveillance (2008) Jennifer Chambers Lynch
Production Budget: $3.5 million
Worldwide Gross: $1.1 million
At the end of my Boxing Helena review I mentioned something to the effect of that being her only real attempt at filmmaking. I was being dismissive and I guess I should go a bit more in depth about my feelings of Jennifer Lynch. I don’t believe in holding one movie against a director;especially a first time effort. Everyone has their bad days and many directors are barely learning the trade when they start out. I remember David Cronenberg talking about how fought to get his debut with Shivers and when he finally got behind the camera he realized he had no idea how to make a movie. Fortunately Shivers was a good movie but the point is it was a starting point and he is now one of the best directors working.
Boxing Helena was a bad movie there is no doubt about that. However, that does not mean I would not necessarily watch another Jennifer Lynch movie (well, obviously, since I’m reviewing another one). My issue with Boxing Helena was not so much with the technical aspects of her directing. My issue was with the crap story, the uneven tone, and horribly forced symbolism. It seemed she was trying too hard to be quirky like her father when I more wanted her to find her own voice. So long story way short I was actually looking forward to Jennifer Lynch’s return to filmmaking after 15 years.
Surveillance is about two FBI agents (played by Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond) who go to a small town to investigate a series of murders. Three witnesses survive the latest incident, and the agents interview them about the events which lead up to the killings.
I left Surveillance puzzled and in this case it is not a good thing. I was puzzled by the tone and what exactly Lynch was going for in this movie. I got the feeling she was trying to emulate her father once again ala Blue Velvet. There is that same attempt at quirky/stilted dialog, reversal of the ideal small town vision, dark humor, and gritty violence. It is here though that you see the difference between an innovator and someone trying to imitate that person. The things that happen in this movie may sound David Lynchian, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it. There is a sub plot about a pair of quirky gung ho cops. What do they do in this movie? They shoot the tires of speeders as they drive by, threaten and assault them with their guns, proceed to abuse them in various ways, and then let them go. Why don’t any of these hundreds of witnesses report them or sue the department? I dunno, maybe because the cops give them a break on their speeding tickets I guess. I can only blindly speculate this was supposed to be some kind of dark humor (especially due to the fact one of the cops is played by an overacting French Stewart), but it doesn’t feel that way. This is an awkwardly handled subplot that frustrates more than anything because this is so unbelievable (as well as not making any goddamn sense) given the tone of the rest of the movie.
I also feel as if Lynch is trying to do a Rashomon style movie about several people with different stories about the same event but even that doesn’t work. Every once in a while they try to throw in something that subverts the narrative but when the witnesses start giving their statments it immediately goes to an objective omnipresent narrator.
One big flaw for me is the lack of any kind of a protagonist. Everyone in this movie ranges from flat out unlikable to evil prick. Because of that I really didn’t care what happened to any of them. There are some big name talent in this movie (Pullman, Ormond, Michael Ironside) as it seems daddy called in some favors of his old casts. Unfortunately none of them are given anything to work with. Both Ironside and Pullman are charasmatic but aren’t allowed to express that as they are given flat stunted dialog and nothing characters. The story was actually alright for the most part, but in what seems now typical Jennifer Lynch fashion, she has to include a bullshit twist ending that doesn’t work.
I wanna be fair with Surveillance in that there were things I liked about this movie. I actually did like much of what Lynch was doing on the technical side. The movie was shot well with a nice bleak appearance. The tension was built up well at times and she has a better feel for dramatic timing. This was a well made movie. I would still like to see Jennifer Lynch direct a movie without that terrible screenwriter she always drags along also coincidentially named Jennifer Lynch. Seriously Jennifer, fire her as your screenwriter and have someone else write your movies. Surveillance is a better movie than Boxing Helena but it still is not a good movie. Lynch gets an A for effort and I enjoy the look and when she actually sticks to the thriller feel. However the writing lets her down yet again as if she learned to write a screenplay from the Ed Wood school of creative writing. Jennifer needs to learn she is not her father as stuff like the French Stewart subplot was one of the more grating experiences in quite a while. Finally, and most importantly, STAY AWAY FROM TWIST ENDINGS!!!