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Friday, December 20, 2013

SURVEILLANCE (2006) -- movie review by porfle

(NOTE: This review originally appeared at in 2006.)

Being able to spy on people all day through a bank of surveillance monitors might tend to give someone a godlike feeling.  If that someone is a mentally unbalanced sadist, has a tendency for manipulation, blackmail, and murder, and is the chief of security for your mall, then you just might have a slight personnel problem.

SURVEILLANCE (2006) shows us what happens when such a man, in this case a single-minded, grimly determined obsessive named Harley (Armand Assante, THE MAMBO KINGS, GOTTI), wields the all-seeing, all-knowing power of his position in more ways than are contained in his job description.  Harley inhabits his beloved occupation like a spider lurking in its web, waiting for the next hapless victim to fall into his clutches.

When mall director Ben Palmer (Robert Rusler, SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK, WEIRD SCIENCE) rubs him the wrong way, he sets the guy up and has him humiliatingly arrested in his own office.  When Palmer's assistant Claire (Laurie Fortier, TO GILLIAN ON HER 37TH BIRTHDAY) resists his efforts to blackmail her by threatening to name her as Palmer's accomplice, he starts to stalk her. 

That's nothing, though, compared to what Harley does to shoplifters.  Oh, no--he has a special way of dealing with them down in a forgotten basement storeroom for which only he has the key.  We see what happens to them only peripherally, in split-second images--this movie isn't part of the current "gore porn" cycle--but the revelation that he was an orphan raised by an uncle who was a mortician fills in a few of the blanks for us, while one particularly grisly depiction of a guy being fitted with a device that sucks his eyeballs right out of his face illustrates Harley's creative side in disturbing fashion.  At any rate, it's safe to say that he has a rather low tolerance for shoplifters.

Into this situation comes Dennis (Nick Cornish), a first offender who's been ordered by the court to do 120 days of honest work to avoid jail.  He gets to be Harley's assistant, which he'll later learn to regret.  Harley shows Dennis the ropes, trains him to be a fairly efficient security man, and involves him in an embezzlement scheme. 

When Dennis and Claire begin to uncover evidence of Harley's guilt, he uses the power of his position to spy on their activities until he's ready to unleash his rage upon them.  And you just know that, sooner or later, Dennis and Claire are going to be given the VIP tour of Harley's secret playroom.

This isn't a great movie by any means, but it looks pretty good and is consistently well-made, with a story that should keep your attention all the way.  Some sequences really had me going--the one in which Dennis is in an empty office secretly accessing computer info on Harley, while a suspicious Harley furiously makes his way through the mall toward Dennis' location, is terrifically suspenseful. 

The finale is somewhat disappointing, with things being resolved in a rather perfunctory fashion that harkens back to a few old Universal horror films as well as I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN, but overall I felt that this film was well worth the time I spent watching it.

The main reason for this is Armand Assante.  It's interesting to see a great actor giving an A-list performance in a B-movie, and Assante tackles this role with everything he's got.  His nimble, naturalistic line reading makes his dialogue sound as though it's coming from right off the top of his head--he's thoroughly convincing and fascinating to watch as the hyper, intense, dangerous wack-job that he's portraying.  If you're an Assante fan, SURVEILLANCE is for you.  If not, watching it just might turn you into one.

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