Wednesday 30 September 2009

Review: Surveillance

Year: 2008 (U.K Cinematic Release: 2009)
Director: Jennifer Lynch
Screenplay: Kent Harper, Jennifer Chambers Lynch
Starring: Bill Pullman, Julia Ormond, Ryan Simpkins

Patience is often need when the name Lynch is stated in film credits, because often the film's are slow burning mysteries, although usually not in the conventional sense. Usually it takes time for the film to process in the viewers mind. For me, as the fragmented aspects of the film slowly fall into place, I'm never too bothered if I don't get it at once because a David Lynch film is one that is usually never boring for me (exceptions being The Lost Highway and Wild at Heart). A David Lynch film is one that deals more with emotions, tone and atmosphere rather than set logic and some people like, while others don't.

For Surveillance, however it takes more than patience just to get to the end credits. This is a film that claims it's a thriller and yet doesn't thrill. It is a film which states it's premise in it's title but renders it's message a gimmicky mess. This is a film which has actors within it that have brought about entertaining turns in film and T.V but have decided to leave their acting chops at home.

The Lynch we will be talking about here is Jennifer (David's daughter), a woman who was critically destroyed over 15 years ago with her box office bomb Boxing Helena. It appears that the bashing she got affected her work so much that she hasn't really been behind a camera since until now. With this said it seems that perhaps the reasons why critics disliked her debut before, have come back to haunt her once again on this film.

I haven't yet watched Boxing Helena but will one day make time to watch it. However, I have read a few reviews about it. A glance at meta critic will give you blurbs such as:

"Lynch's fatal flaw is in her handling of the leads."
TV Guide - Michael Gingold

"This film has all the psychological depth of a wading pool. Anything you've imagined without seeing the movie is likely more interesting than what's here."
Austin Chronicle - Robert Faires

Now while I'm not the biggest fan of blurbs, these quotes about Lynch's debut, ring true here as well. As a director Jennifer Lynch has none of the panache or verve of her father (who happens to executive producer of this), be it in handling actors, maintaining tone or keeping the story interesting.

Surveillance has been likened to Rashomon in it's fractured telling of witnesses recanting a gruesome tale of events. Rashomon worked as the story being told, varied so much that the conclusion was left ambiguously for the viewer to judge. It's a beautifully delicate story. Surveillance suffers because Lynch lays all her cards out on the table way too quickly. Within 5 minutes I knew the ending of the story due to the poor handling of the narrative. This ruins the films insight of it's main theme: Perceptive. Lynch does nothing to askew the viewers judgment and because of this there's no tension. Lynch does nothing to disorient the viewer and so with with the ending firmly within the viewers mind, the film proceeds to trudge along at a lethargic pace complete with a lackluster script and "kooky" performances that stick out for no other reason other than the fact that they're so awkward.

Bill Pullman is the main culprit, blundering through his lines like a amateur drama student. It's a performance full of mawkish visual tics and line readings that sound like the actor is constipated. It's horrible to watch. Other performances fare slightly better but only slightly, the only stand out display is that of Ryan Simpkins who is to be the only watchable (and normal) aspect to this carnival of outcasts.

It also doesn't help that the film lacks the intensity that Father Lynch loads within his films. The film has some brutal looking visuals but it's nothing that I haven't seen before in other, stronger films. Lynch's movie is far to conventional in almost every aspect accept her characters which would like better in a film of her dad's then her own.

On the plus side the film has some nice sound production and I love the setting but so what? In a film with only one or two locations, where the hell is the claustrophobia? where the sense of dread? The film is far too see through for it's own good and despite the directors' intentions, anyone whose seen more than a few movies of this caliber will not be impressed.

While it's horrible to compare father to daughter in such a way Surveillance does nothing to separate the two filmmakers. It's clear that Jennifer wishes to operate in the same nasty recesses that her father does. The difference of course is flair. Like him or not a David Lynch film can usually brings a wild array of emotions. For his daughter however Surveillance can only bring boredom.