Under Surveillance (2005) – By Timothy Martinez

 Ten years after his parents divorced, Justin Besler returns to live with his father while he pursues a criminal law degree, much to the protestations of his mother who claims that his father is not a good person. Justin’s dad happens to be a police officer and the two have differing views on criminals and how to treat them. Additionally, Justin’s father has renovated his large house so that it is now made up of four distinct apartments and home to five other people besides father and son. Soon after moving in, Justin meets and spends some time with a strange woman named Kayla, who soon turns up dead on the front lawn. It seems one of the house’s seven residents is a killer, but which one? Could whoever it is be connected to the satanic cult operating in the area that goes by the name The Black Circle and which has already claimed the life of one man?

While his father investigates the cult, Justin decides to do some amateur sleuthing of his own. With help from his friend Scott and Scott’s school roommate Rick, he installs a series of small video cameras throughout the house in order to observe the actions of all who live there. It is soon apparent that all the people in the house are harboring secrets, but which one is the killer? The trio begin watching the other tenants in the house as well as sneaking into their apartments to look around. However, the deeper Justin and his friends dig into the mystery, the more their own lives are at risk.

Under Surveillance is one of the more entertaining mystery/thrillers to come along in a while. There have been several films where the main characters are the ones being spied upon unknowingly, but this is the first one I have seen where the protagonists are actually the ones engaged in the voyeuristic actions. This different approach is a welcome change and adds new depth to the inevitable plots twists that pop up later in the film. Justin and his friends believe they are the ones with the upper hand, but we ultimately see that they have been manipulated down a certain path from the very start.

While there are a number of deaths that occur during the course of the movie, there really is no graphic violence to speak of, so those turned off by excessive blood and guts need not fear anything. In fact, aside from the occasional bits of salty language, there is really nothing in this film that could not be aired on late prime time television. It is this lack of gore, nudity and other exploitive devices that works in the film’s favor. Concentrating on the narrative and characters while eschewing such elements as those noted above, the film is able to tell an interesting story that is grounded in realism. It also forgoes the obvious “boo” moments designed for cheap scares and instead slowly builds up its atmosphere of unease. No spring loaded cats to be found here! All the performances are quite good as well, building upon the excellent writing to help bring the characters to life. From the friendly Justin to the savvy Rick (played by writer/director/producer Dave Campfield) to the slightly unnerving Kayla, they all bring the proper amount of genuineness to the story without going overboard and becoming caricatures of the mystery/thriller genre. Every tenant in the building is not only convincingly played, but equally and adequately fleshed out for the purposes of the story.

Since a significant amount of what transpires on screen is supposed to be what Justin and his friends are seeing via the hidden cameras, these sequences are in black and white to help differentiate who is where and exactly what is going on. This may sound like a jarring distraction, but believe me it is not. The method is pulled off seamlessly and in all honesty it does not affect the proceedings at all. Overall, this is a great film and while it may not quite get your heart pumping as fast as other films, it will get your brain to thinking, turning over all the disparate clues in search of an answer…and truthfully, what is more potentially frightening than what one’s own imagination conjures up? If you’d like to find out more about this film, you can head on over to the film’s website at http://us.davecampfield.com.