Jennifer Lynch, the daughter of director David Lynch, hasn’t helmed a movie since 1993’s Boxing Helena, a perverse and somewhat sickening story of erotic obsession. But even a 15-year absence from the director’s chair hasn’t diluted her knack for narrative craft, as proven with this year’s Surveillance, a stylishly eccentric murder-mystery set in small town America.
A pair of masked killers have left a trail of bloody murders across the state, and FBI agents Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond are called in to investigate the most recent slaying. Arriving at a rural police station, the agents are required to interview three witnesses who were present at the same roadside massacre: an 8-year-old girl, a pretty blonde junkie, and a sadistic cop. Their respective stories unfold Rashomon-style through deliberately paced flashbacks. The girl was enjoying a vacation with her family, the tweaking junkie was fleeing from a drug house with her equally tweaked boyfriend, and the sadistic cop was out on patrol with his equally sadistic partner (is that French Stewart?!?). Their disparate story lines brutally converge on a lonely country road.
Since the specifics of the roadside crime figure prominently into the plot, it’s best not to divulge any further details. Surveillance is a movie that thrives on the slow reveal. Yes, something awful occurred, and yes, it was gruesome, and yes, there is no doubt the audience desperately wants to know what the hell happened. From the first few peculiar moments we are completely hooked on Lynch’s brand of storytelling, and she twists her directorial fly rod back and forth, playing out slack and then reeling frantically, letting us squirm on the end of the line.
Some may complain that it’s far too easy to discern the big twist in the final reel. Perhaps. But simply seeing your destination in the distance doesn’t render the journey any less interesting. Bill Pullman puts in one of those singularly bizarre performances he tends to reserve for low-budget indies like Surveillance or Zero Effect, all exasperated mumbling and blank stares. Julia Ormond looks amazing these days. Michael Ironside, Hugh Dillon (Durham County), and ex-SNL cast member Cheri Oteri fluff out the cast list. Slick and sturdy, Surveillance is a movie that’s meant to be experienced rather than remembered.