Friday, June 26, 2009

Lynch’s Surveillance

News of another David Lynch vehicle featuring the G-men of the F.B.I. is bound to intrigue fans of Twins Peaks. Even though cult-favorite Lynch only serves as executive producer, relinquishing the director’s chair to his daughter Jennifer, devotees of the cryptic television show will hope for similarly distinctive characters and idiosyncratic charm. Alas, they will be greatly disappointed by Jennifer Lynch’s Surveillance (trailer here), a cynical exercise in cinematic sadism, opening today in New York.

Agents Hallaway and Anderson look a lot like Mulder and Scully, except they do not seem to bother hiding their romantic feelings for each other. They have driven all night to get to the small police station of Nowheresville, USA, where they intend to interview the surviving witnesses of a vicious spree killing.

Surveillance fancies itself as a pastiche to Rashomon, with the three witnesses’ divergent stories collectively pointing to the truth. If only. Frankly, the structure of the film can be broken into two parts: the initial flashbacks in which the cops brutalize innocent bystanders, and the present timeline, where the serial killers torture and kill the survivors.

To be fair, Lynch successfully evokes the unsettling vastness of desert highways and certainly keeps viewers on edge as the horrors unfold. Yet, Surveillance is unsatisfying as a horror film, because it never provides a cathartic release. Granted, it is does not approach the graphic gore of recent charnel house pictures like Hostel. Still, the film’s moral universe is a dark Nietzschean place, where might makes right and the audience is expected to take vicarious thrills from the on-screen brutality.

There are no heroes in Lynch’s film. Great lengths are taken to show the cops are just as cruel as the killers—but not as sexy. The cast is also quite a mixed bag. Bill Pullman is intriguingly off-kilter as Hallaway, but Julia Ormand seems wildly miscast as Agent Anderson. Ironically, the most likable performance probably comes from Michael Ironside, the character actor known for playing heavies, so it is a sure bet his Captain Billings will shortly die a grisly death.

Surveillance has a mean streak as long as Route 66. Despite the gamesmanship of its big twist, Surveillance is nowhere near as inventive as Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive, or even the justly notorious Lost Highway. For Lynch diehards not easily dissuaded, it opens today in New York at the Cinema Village.