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Surveillance (2008)

Magnolia Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/18/2009

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/17/2009

Everyday, many people enter into the same profession as their parents. Some of these are in the public-eye, but most are confined to specific areas of the workforce. But, no where is their more scrutiny than in show business. (Well, OK, maybe athletes and politicians who follow in their parents' footsteps are carefully watched, but for the moment, let's stick with my argument.) If you are the child of one of the most talked about, controversial, and influential filmmakers of the modern era, you experience a catch-22. You've no doubt grown up around movies and filmmaking is in your blood. On the other hand, your every move will be compared to your father's. Such is the case with Jennifer Lynch, the daughter of David Lynch, whose second film (and her first in 15 years), Surveillance, has come to Blu-ray Disc.

As Surveillance opens, we witness two masked assailants attack a couple who are sleeping in their home. The scene then shifts to a police station in the daytime. FBI agents Sam Hallaway (Bill Pullman) and Elizabeth Anderson (Julia Ormond) have arrived in a small desert town to investigate a bizarre and deadly incident. They are there to interview three witness to the events; Jack, a police officer (Kent Harper); Bobbi (Pell James), a junkie; and Stephanie (Ryan Simpkins). The local cops don't like the Feds being on their turf, but they agree to cooperate. When Sam's equipment is in place, the three witnesses are moved to separate rooms so that they can tell their stories. The problem is, only Stephanie seems interested in telling the truth. Jack describes a routine patrol with his partner, Jim (French Stewart), but in flash-backs, we see that the two were harassing motorists for fun. Bobbi claims that she and her boyfriend, Johnny (Mac Miller), had come to town looking for a job, but we see that they were buying drugs (and ripping off a drug-dealer). While the stories are divergent at first, when it comes to the terrible event which transpired, they nearly gel. But, in this bizarre tale, the truth may be stranger and more shocking than anyone could imagine.

Given her pedigree, Jennifer Lynch could presumably make any kind of movies which she liked. However, she has chosen to go down some of the same paths which her father has haunted, and explore the dark side of human behavior -- more specifically, through the crimes which people commit. It's nearly impossible to not compare Surveillance to movies like Blue Velvet or Lost Highway, as they all portray brutal acts of violence and portray people in an almost animalistic way. But, there is one huge difference. With this film, Jennifer stays within the confines of our reality and never goes into the dark, dreamlike places which her father loves to inhabit. While the narrative structure of the movie is somewhat different, as the present takes place after the main event, and we learn about everything through Rashomon-like flashbacks, if the story were laid end-to-end in chronological order, it would all make sense. You can't say this for most of David Lynch's movies.

And 1/2 of the story in Surveillance works. The fact that the major turning point in the film has already happened when we get there makes the movie extremely intriguing. We are given some clues at the outset (we know which characters are in the flashbacks and which ones are in the police station), but we have to wait for the flashbacks to explain the rest. During this time, we are given an opportunity to get to know the characters, which is a nice change of pace for this kind of film. This allows us the opportunity to build up a great deal of animosity towards Jim and Jack, and to decide that Bobbi is harmless. When the event does happen, it's quite shocking, even though we have a good idea of what is going to occur.

But, there's another side to Surveillance which involves a shocking plot twist. Except, it's not shocking. I've written before about how I get very involved in well-made movies, and because of this, I rarely see plot twists coming. But, I spotted this one from the get-go. This isn't to imply that Surveillance isn't a well-made film, because it is, but this is the kind of plot twist where I'm left to wonder if I wasn't supposed to see that coming. (Not only was it telegraphed in my opinion, it's something which I've seen in other movies).

Despite this major flaw, Surveillance will appeal to those who like crime movies with a dark edge. Also, David Lynch fans will want to check this out to see how he rubbed off on his little girl (check the sound design).

Surveillance isn't having fun on its vacation courtesy of Magnolia Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, but mild grain is visible throughout. However, there are no defects from the source material. The colors look good, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The desert landscape shots look fantastic, as they show a great deal of depth. The Disc contains a DTS-HD Master Audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. Normally, DTS tracks are "louder" than their Dolby counterparts and volume isn't an issue. However, the dynamic range is slightly off here, and the dialogue is muted. The stereo effects are good and show a nice amount of detail. The surround is fantastic during the "big" sequences, most notably the major event and the opening scene.

The Surveillance Blu-ray Disc has a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Jennifer Lynch and Actors Mac Miller and Charlie Newmark. "Surveillance: The Watched are Watching" (15 minutes) is a making-of featurette which, for a change of pace, is made up mostly of on-set footage and comments from the cast and Lynch. The actors talk about their characters, and their experiences working with Lynch. "HDNet: A Look at Surveillance" (5 minutes) is more of a standard piece, which contains a lot of clips, and some comments from the participants, which look as if they were done at a screening of the film. The Disc contains three DELETED SCENES which run about 12 minutes and can be viewed with commentary from Lynch. One of these is an ALTERANTE ENDING, which contains the same twist, but then changes things significantly -- Lynch's comments for this are worth listening to. It's easy to see why the other two scenes were cut from the film.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long