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Surveillance is a grisly, wild ride through the dark side.

Part of our coverage of the Starz Denver Film Festival
Part of our coverage of the Starz Denver Film Festival

Evidence / Violence

As the opening credits roll, the names Cheri Oteri ( Saturday Night Live) and French Stewart (3rd Rock from the Sun) appear. It seems odd to have two actors so well known for comedy show up in something that’s supposed to be a morbid, sinister drama about a series of grisly, gruesome murders.

Thankfully, the casting works out well. And so does most of the movie, for that matter.

That might come as a surprise for those who remember Jennifer Lynch’s last movie, Boxing Helena. That was 14 years ago and it led to such brouhaha she hasn’t made another movie until now.

Surveillance begins by throwing off vibes of X-Files and Twin Peaks. Two FBI agents, Elizabeth Anderson (Julia Ormond, Inland Empire) and Sam Hallaway (Bill Pullman, Lost Highway), are dispatched to help the police in a small Nebraska town track down a serial killer. Of course, the local cops take offense at the feds’ interference.

In the early going, things are just enough off-kilter to spur a nagging hope that Special Agent Dale Cooper might put in an appearance.

Dad, I Saw Something

Honoree Bill Pullman after Surveillance at the 31st Denver Film Festival
Honoree Bill Pullman after Surveillance at the 31st Denver Film Festival

With the body count growing, the feds want to pin down the killer — or killers — and they begin by interviewing witnesses via a surveillance camera they set up in the police station.

In fairly short order it becomes obvious that nothing in Surveillance is going to be “obvious.” It doesn’t matter if it’s a young woman, Bobbi (Pell James, Zodiac), or Officer Bennett (Kent Harper, Slumming). Everybody’s got a tale to tell — and the verbal acuity to sidestep the ugly part of their own reality in order to skirt the harsh truths of their own drug addictions and other misdeeds.

Everybody’s lying.

Everybody, that is, except for 10-year-old Stephanie (Ryan Simpkins, Revolutionary Road). She’s the observant, honest one who saw her parents and brother get taken down by a maniacal duo of masked killers. To a certain extent, she’s like Carol Anne Freeling in Poltergeist and Cole Sear in The Sixth Sense.

As for Officer Bennett and his murdered partner, Jim Conrad (Stewart), their mischievous way of venting tensions by shooting out the tires of passersby in order to molest and harass instead of serve and protect ultimately leads to a head-on clash with the very same killers that have put them on edge.

It’s the ol’ intersecting storyline trick and it works really well here.

Here’s Where the Fun Begins

As things start to escalate and light begins to shine on the entire case, Agent Hallaway says with eerie glee, “It’s fun now!”

And he’s right.

It takes a little time to adjust to the mood and tone of Surveillance; it’s one of those movies that features very few likable characters. Everybody’s got something to hide, Stephanie notwithstanding, which makes it all the more challenging to warm up to the movie’s sinister mind. For quite some time, it seems to be merely an exercise in depravity, blood, and vomit.

But the cast is the glue that holds together this eerie, demented ride into the human psyche. Most notably, Ormond and Pullman absolutely relish their roles. It’s their introduction as — potentially — the next Scully and Mulder of quirky, bizarre investigations that builds a certain degree of anticipation. But this is Lynch family territory (Jennifer’s father, the one-and-only David Lynch, served as a producer) and this investigation leads to a very chilling twist ending.

Or perhaps “twisted” ending is a more apt description.