I tend to underestimate independents sometimes, and with “Under Surveillance” I expected one thing and received the complete opposite. I knew I had this movie pegged about thirty minutes in, and then the surprise climax completely slapped me in the face, and right humbled my suspicions. Writer-director David Campfield manages to create a film that really ends up being a worthy hybrid of Hitchcock and Agatha Christie, with a story that constantly comes up with layers upon layers of plot twists and surprises that really involve the audience with what’s occurring on-screen. He feeds us this notion about what the film is alluding to, and then sneaks on us a completely different concept that fits.
Campfield really knows how to tackle the film with a tight narrative that relies on pure characterization, and with this film we really do get it by the barrelfuls. One of my reasons for adoring independent films is that the lack of budget enables the makers to cut through the shit and then we really get to see if they can tell a story, and Campfield’s story becomes ever more elaborate as the time goes on, and often times it really sideswiped my viewing experience. Often times it felt like a sick reality show; “One of these people brutally murdered a psycho satanist. Who could it be?” But instead of relying on cheap devices, and utterly manipulative red herrings, Campfield relies more on mounting tension and atmosphere.
Not to say there aren’t red herrings here, but they basically end up being more pivotal in terms of the plot as we slowly discover this is a murder mystery instead of a ritualistic murder. Campfield boldly takes a page from “Rear Window” and modernizes it with, many times, brutally engrossing methods. If “Rear Window” is ever remade, it should be made like this. “Under Surveillance” such an exceptional and utterly involving murder mystery, and I was hooked. The cast manages to give some really good performances including Eric Conley as the reluctant hero Justin, who is forced in to this position of seeking out the truth as he and his two friends, and in a sense of desperation seek out to find the killer or killers of a psychotic young girl, and set up cameras all around the building they live in to weed out who or whom killed the young girl.
There were many scenes where we candidly glimpse in to the apartments of the suspects and watch them go about their lives in hopes of discovering before the actual characters, who the killer is, and many times I found myself trying to decipher the mystery. Many of the surveillance scenes range from utterly fascinating to just plain hilarious, and we’re introduced to the range of characters that are potential murderers and must connect the dots. Campfield gives some great direction with tight camera scenes and engrossing sequences where the characters come too close for comfort in discovering the culprits behind the murder. I found myself wondering often where the story was headed and hoped Campfield wouldn’t completely botch the delivery, but the surprise climax that really hits hard with its simplicity managing to pay off the audiences involvement and I was pleased.
What managed to many times completely take me out of the narrative and bring down the pacing was the incredibly over the top performance of David Rigg who seems to be channeling Charles Bronson or something. I was never sure what he was attempting to pull off with this character whose machismo only surpassed his knack for goofy emoting, and his performance managed to vary from completely wooden, to completely unconvincing to chewing the scenery in every which way that was just distracting. Despite David Rigg’s hammy acting, “Under Surveillance” is essentially an entertaining and engrossing murder mystery that really manages to blend tension and atmosphere and a surprise ending that pays off well. With good performances and direction, this is very much worth the watch.