The first movies of budding genre filmmakers are kind of hit or miss.For every Dark Star, there's Seizure.What's Seizure?Exactly.Under Surveillance, the first movie from writer/director/actor Dave Campfield, falls somewhere in the middle, but closer to Dark Star.While rough around the edges, Under Surveillance is a confident, atmospheric work from a very talented filmmaker.If he could only get the movie onto shelves. . . (more on that below)
In Under Surveillance, student Justin Besler (Eric Conley) moves back home to live with his father, only to find that his childhood home has been split up into four apartments.His father Kurt Besler (David Rigg) is a homicide detective investigating a series of murders involving a satanic cult. When one of the cult's victims turns up in his father's yard, Justin decides to investigate the murders himself, with the help of his old friend Scott and Scott's sketchy roommate Rick Varlin (the director himself, Dave Campfield).Rick's one of those guys you see on every dorm floor, supporting himself by buying beer for and selling weed to his underage floor mates.It's Rick's idea to rig the four apartments in the house with hidden cameras.Maybe they'll see something and solve the crime.They certainly see something - the tenants have plenty of their own problems.
Campfield has given himself a lot to work with in Under Surveillance.That's the movie's only downfall.There are too many characters and too much plot.Under Surveillance feels most at home when it's dealing with the claustrophobic confines of Besler house, and the dysfunctional father-son relationship.Satanists, be gone!
Outside of the plot, Under Surveillance is a good calling card movie.
The filmmaking is very impressive, especially considering the low budget (Okay, not filmmaking; Under Surveillance was shot on video.The moviemaking is very impressive . . .) It's well shot and compellingly framed.Campfield, working with Directors of Photography Xavier Rodriguez and Andrew Seltz, uses the full screen aspect ratio expertly, the small square frame trapping all the characters, even when they're outdoors (which isn't often.Under Surveillance is an inside movie).And Campfield deals with the actual surveillance footage creatively as well - after we've been watching black and white footage of action in one of the apartments, he sort of zooms into the image while staying black and white, so we're subjectively inside the surveillance tape for the character's worst revelations.
Most of the acting is excellent - not a given with first films.Some cast highlights:
- Eric Conley as Justin carries the movie.While Justin's been away at school he's picked up religion fairly seriously.This aspect of his character really drives his reactions to his father, his friends, the women he meets, and the murders he's trying to solve.Externally, the only thing we know about Justin's religious faith is the cross he wears around his neck.But Conley imbues Justin with a quiet authority.He's learned a lot in his time away.
- David Rigg as Justin's father.This guy scared the crap out of me. He's simultaneously a genuinely scary villain, a wholly believable homicide cop, an intimidating father figure and a man haunted by demons only he knows.He had a way of telling Conley, "Come here, I have to talk to you a second" (which he says more than once) that filled me with true child-parent dread.In Rigg's hands Kurt Besler is one haunted, driven hombre.Give this man his own movie, stat.
- Alexandra Eitel as Kayla.She has a relatively small role, but her red hair, alabaster skin, searching eyes, and half-whispered voice add up to a wise, ethereal presence.
- Special mention also goes to Dave Campfield's performance as Rick. He completely blows Scott, the other 'Justin's friend' character out of the water, and acts a compelling 'sketchy guy' foil for Justin's innate goodness.
Unfortunately, as of now, Under Surveillance doesn't have distribution.I e-mailed Dave Campfield regarding the situation, and he had this to say: "We're in the process of submitting [Under Surveillance] to the festival route . . . We'll be pursuing distribution shortly, hopefully a very small theatrical run (like 10 theaters across the country) followed by a DVD release. But as of right now, it's not available for the public. If someone really NEEDS a copy, I suppose they could try to email me for it :)"
Why a movie as assured as Under Surveillance awaits an uncertain distribution future while quality-free crap like Corpses Are Forever clogs the chain rental store shelves is beyond me (I reviewed Corpses Are Forever here at the Corner a couple months ago so you wouldn't have to bother.You have no idea how grateful you are).Horror fans can see through flaws to the vision behind them, when it's there.With Under Surveillance, it's there.And you know something?John Carpenter's Dark Star isn't perfect either.
Reprinted with permission from Creature Corner