Under Surveillance (2006)
AKA: Dark Chamber
(Premiere Date: 2006 [IndieGathering Film Festival])
(DVD Release Date: January 15, 2008)
Sun, 4 Sep 2005 22:48:03 -0700 (PDT)

It's not the final version, but it's not so bad!1/2

When you're going places, even the journey is fun to watch!

J.C. Maek III... 

Surveilled Critic!
J.C. Maek III
The World's Greatest Critic!

You want to know what the greatest part of my job is? Coming across an issue with an LDC that could potentially result in a vast number of missing 810 transactions, costing us millions in lost revenue, but with proper analysis, inspection of the 997s, 824s, if applicable, and, quite naturally, the structure and security of the originating 867 and corresponding aforementioned 810s (coupled with a thorough and end-to-end inspection of the GISB/ NAESB logs and perpetuated HTTP messages) discovering that the issue was not on our side, but that of the LDC, and that LDC must then admit fault, reopen the Bill Windows and ensure, under penalty of PUC Complaint, that all External Bill Ready Customers receive their invoices in a timely manner.

Oh, I'm sorry, you thought I was big enough to just write reviews and not have a day job?

Okay, then, I'll go with that. The best part of my job as a Film Critic, is that glorious moment during which an aspiring Film Maker contacts me and asks me to review his or her film. The bigger I get, the more often this seems to happen, which is, naturally, a big honor. The honor would be all the bigger if I had indeed gotten big enough to just do this and never again worry about 810s, 867s, 997s, 824s, LDCs, PUCs, or GISB and NAESB. But then, when writing reviews becomes "work", I'll probably bitch about this too.

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He's got some questions, and he wants some answers!

But I'm not here to lay bitchery upon Under Surveillance, the first film from Dave Campfield and Fourth Horizon Cinema. Why? Because, this first movie, while not quite perfect, is clearly the first stepping stone to greater successes for both Campfield and Fourth Horizon! Before I move on, it should be noted that the DVD Screening Copy that FHC gifted me with represented a cut that was still in Post Production, without Sound or Color Correction complete. Therefore, the film doesn't look or sound as good as it could, or... will. Chances are, if you came across this movie airing out of context, you might just change the channel! That would be a shame, because Under Surveillance isn't bad... in fact, it isn't a lot of things you might expect!

But let me tell you about what Under Surveillance is, in this incarnation and its next... it's an interesting, story-driven mystery, that, though visual in nature, could have worked pretty well as a 1940's radio play, much like some of the best of Hitchcock's work. To be fair, Campfield is no Hitch, not yet, but any film historian will tell you that Hitchcock wasn't even HITCHCOCK until well into his career.

Campfield, who also wrote and produced, brings us the story of a "good guy" who is actually a good guy in the form of Eric Conley's Justin Besler. Looking like a young Ant'ny Lapaglia (that's a compliment) and holding his Bible a lot closer than his own self-interests, Justin moves back into his dear old dad's house, against his dear old mom's advice. Sadly, Mom appears to be crazier than Andy Kauffman's press agent, while accusing Justin's dad (a rogue police dick) of being madder than a hatter. Truth is, Dad has changed bit by bit, and Justin's childhood home now also houses seven tenants in four apartments on Daddio's land.

It's a chance date with Alexandra Eitel's Kayla (looking like an indie version of Gillian Anderson) that brings Justin into the strange and deadly mysteries of the little town he's just moved back to. What follows is a creepy and murderous journey through the lives of all the tenants, as well as Justin's friends and family, which touches upon a satanic cult known as the Black Circle, and a much more eye-friendly circle of local call girls.

Hidden digital cameras replace Rear Window's telescope as Justin and Kemosabe Scott (Fred DeReau) team up with the local sleeze-merchant Rick Varlin (Dave Campfield himself), looking for who it is out there with a penchant for killing off the locals!

It's here that the realistic logic of the story takes a bit of a break in favor of ambitious indie film making. Rick's affinity for using hidden cameras for pleasure and profit tolls a little hollow as we see scene after scene of evidentiary footage. Whereas Dave Campfield's budget for this real film needed some budgetary help, Dave's character Rick seems to be rolling naked in dough, as he has not only cameras in place, but enough cameras strategically placed to film every possible camera angle in every possible private moment of every tenant. That's either a whole lot of cameras, or a few really intelligent pieces of spy equipment able to follow the movements of these folks like a skilled director. One even appears to be pointing at an answering machine, just in case it blinks. Under surveillance indeed.

Further, the overall strong cast breaks into the occasionally melodramatic scene, and once or twice there are some directorial flaws, such as a slapstick face punch once in a while that keeps fist fully away from face as the character flinches and falls. So, yeah, it's a fact, Jack, that Campfield isn't quite there yet, but let me qualify that by saying that these flaws stand out because the overall product is pretty good, especially when one considers what contributed to the whole.

Campfield made his film on around 30 grand, with a few unfortunate breaks in the shooting process. He's chosen some very good actors and worked through a story of his own creation with the best possible tools he was able to get his hands on. Aside from the admitted and completely understandable color and sound issues (which will have no effect on the rating of this movie), Under Surveillance is a pretty damned well edited indie. Maybe not quite as well edited as the impossibly smooth cuts of the surveillance videos, but hey, fiction is fiction, and I should shut the eff-you-see-kay up, right?

An especially compelling element of Under Surveillance is how much better it feels upon a second viewing. Like some of the better mysteries out there, Campfield's debut gets the feeling of puzzle-pieces falling into place as the rope unwinds. Watching it again, one fully recognizes those puzzle pieces, strengthening the whole. This illustrates that Campfield is most certainly a man of vision, and worth the effort to keep an eye on. If he's written and directed a mystery this interesting with a tenth of the budget that many of the inferior Whoreywood films out their squander, imagine what his product is going to look like if his investment pays off and he makes it! He's already got a great eye for casting, particularly in the category of hotties like Felissa Rose's Heidi and Julie Goff's Lucky... but hey, these are the things I notice.

Where am I going with all this? As I illustrated above, I still have the vicious talons of my day job digging into my sweet meats day by day. But while the World's Greatest Critic may still have a day job, there will come a time when Dave Campfield won't be needing to work days... and that's not something I can say about just any director who picks up a camera! To be both frank and fair, in its present state, even without post production completed, Under Surveillance is better than the remake of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, better than the remake of The Amityville Horror, better than Dark Water, better than The Last House on the Left, better than House of Wax, a hell of a lot better than House of 1,000 Corpses, better than Venom, better than Cry_Wolf, and, yes, better than the #1 movie in America at the time of this writing... Flightplan. Not joking, not exaggerating.

A high school teacher of mine used to repeat the adage that there is no bad work, only unfinished work. I think that the makers of this film would agree that Under Surveillance isn't finished, but is the kernel of something quality. Two and one half stars out of five for Under Surveillance. With some stand-out performances, great ideas and a uniquely interesting approach to storytelling (after all, isn't that what a film should be?), Under Surveillance is a prime example of a first film reflecting a potential to make better films in the coming years. Campfield may not "be there yet", but his first shot shows that he is most certainly on the right path, and with the proper budget and enough takes to make a scene work, his next few might be a lot closer to his goals. He might just keep you guessing! But don't guess at this... take a closer look at Under Surveillance by visiting Campfield's website... http://us.davecampfield.com! Now, if you'll excuse me, a couple of boyz -n- the hood just asked me to go to church with them. While I've never seen a palm tattoo before, they did offer to introduce me to some hot wickan hookers. See you in the next reel.

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Under Surveillance (2005) Reviewed by J.C. Maek III who is solely responsible for this article and for the fact that...
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