In one of the most spectacular flameouts of recent American film, Jennifer Lynch went from hot-shit prodigy to laughingstock with one wacko, lazily maligned movie: 1993’s Razzie-approved Boxing Helena. It’s taken David’s daughter 16 years to revive her career, but judging from her follow-up, Surveillance, time has stood still. Closely following a mid-Nineties playbook of third-hand genre affectations, grab-bag Americana, serial killer chic, deserted highways at magic hour, cameos by marginal celebrities pantomiming against type, and general bad faith, Surveillance is an unwelcome blast from late nights of premium cable’s past. Lynch’s film shows marginally bigger ambitions and production values than cruddy, disposable Daniel Baldwin or Michael Biehn distractions, but it has no greater claim to aesthetic or moral maturity.
Dispensing with buildup or character-pegged emotional investment, Surveillance opens with a home invasion slaughter by strobe effect, a teaser of the unmotivated horrors about to commence. Next FBI agents Anderson (Julia Ormond) and Hallaway (Bill Pullman) arrive at the most remote, undermanned police station in America to investigate a grisly three-car massacre, the latest in a series of killings. After sorting the survivors—a jittery cop, a leggy junkie, and a young girl—into separate rooms, Anderson and Hallaway interrogate via closed-circuit TV, rotating among divergent stories that nevertheless converge at the inevitable bloodbath. Despite stiff and dense competition (Vantage Point, One Night at McCool’s), Surveillance might be the least sophisticated handling of the Rashomon template. As witnesses tell their story slant, Lynch shows us what actually happened to prove that: surprise! everyone lies. Everyone, that is, but Stephanie (Ryan Simpkins) the pure, precocious little girl with the familiarly flat delivery (just once I’d like to see the lone flame of humanity’s defiance represented by somebody else—a burly, middle-aged retail manager maybe, or even a headstrong, power-suited woman for reparations sake). Despite her creepy lack of affect, the child’s no murderer, but then neither are the two false witnesses. Their stories, laboriously unspooled, serve only to overstate Lynch’s central thesis: that evil not only lurks inside all of us, but that all of us—excepting select little girls—are floridly rotten, rotten, rotten to the core. Click here to read the rest of Eric Hynes’s review of Surveillance.