Campfield's independent film "Under Surveillance" is a murder-mystery,
but its biggest problem is that the murder, as well as the mystery, is not
entirely interesting. The film stars Eric Conley as Justin, a young man who
flees his drug-addled mother to move back in with his estranged father, a cop
who has remodeled his house to rent out to boarders. No sooner does Justin
arrive home does he meet the mysterious and disturbed Kayla, whose guarded
secrets at first attracts, but then repels Justin. One night, Kayla is murdered
and found on Justin's lawn. The police believe that a local cult called the
is responsible, but Justin thinks someone closer to him, living in the same
house, is the real killer.
title refers to Justin and college chum Scott (Fred DeReau) as they go about
putting the tenants of Justin's house under hidden camera surveillance. Helping
them out is Scott's anything-for-a-buck roommate Rick (writer/director
Campfield). The trio camps out in Rick's van and watches the tenants, hoping
that one of them will turn out to be the killer. Along the way, we get a lot of
David Lynch-inspired moments courtesy of the colorful tenants, Rick's comic
relief, and Scott's neurosis. And is it me, or does Eric Conley look a bit like
the lead singer of "Creed"?
on digital video, "Under Surveillance" intercuts between color and
black and white "surveillance" POV. Every now and then Campfield
forgets that the limited hidden cameras are supposed to be stationary, thus they
can't keep cutting for dramatic close-ups of the people being watched. I suppose
we can pass this off as creative license, although that doesn't quite explain
why some of the scenes continue in black and white for much too long.
film's big obstacle is that it doesn't develop its murder victim nearly enough
to warrant not only Justin's interest in solving her murder, but our investment
in watching him investigate. Consider the recent "Sin
City", where the brutish Marv seeks bloody vengeances on the men
responsible for killing Goldie, the beautiful woman who gave him his one and
only glorious night in the sack. There's nothing approaching that kind of
motivation in "Under Surveillance", and it seems that Justin's quest
for justice is simply part of his personality as a righteous individual. All
fine and well, but the audience has no such morale compunction, and actually
needs a reason to care.
Surveillance" does have some things going for it, including some
surprisingly good performances from the unknown cast. I'm always pleasantly
surprised that low-budget films manage to procure these types of credible
actors, having seen so many that just couldn't find people talented enough to
walk and talk at the same time. While lead Eric Conley lets his hair do most of
the acting for him, co-star David H. Rigg, as Justin's hardnosed cop father, has
the perfect dead-on delivery. While Rigg's monotone delivery style seems
ill-fitting at first, one comes to appreciate the dryness of it as the movie
best role in the entire film is Rick, who Campfield smartly keeps for himself.
Campfield has a ball playing the smart-alecky entrepreneur who sells beers to
minors and seems to have one too many hidden cameras for someone still in
college. I wouldn't be shocked to learn that Campfield patterned the character
after the kid that started those "Girls Gone Wild" videos. College
chum Scott, on the other hand, feels like a third wheel for much of the film.
I'm not entirely sure why the character even exists at all.
film does make the mistake of falling back on an obvious deus ex machina
ending, where everything comes together in a perfect little bundle. Who knew bad
guys still kept evidence of their crimes lying? Not only that, but apparently
the evidence is cued up to go directly to the incriminating parts! Campfield's
script does get points for originality, as we come to learn that the reason for
Kayla's murder was nowhere near as complex as the cover-up.
Surveillance" is a good first feature for Campfield, even if it is a little
weak in the beginning, and the tone is sometimes off. As a serious
murder-mystery, the film probably shouldn't have so many funny moments, as they
seem to clash with the movie's more mature themes. Every now and then, you get
the feeling Campfield would be better off writing "Animal House" type
comedies instead. Something to consider, perhaps?