The Sinner – Part 8

USA’s The Sinner
Part 8
Directed by Tucker Gates
Written by Jesse McKeown & Tom Pabst

* For a recap & review of Part 7, click here.
Pic 1Cora (Jessica Biel), with the help of Dt. Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman), has finally remembered what happened that night, up in the cabin near the Beverwyck Club. Or at least she remembers Phoebe (Nadia Alexander) dying, Frankie (Eric Todd) trying to save her life with CPR. She still doesn’t recall the truth about the man in the mask, the syringe scars. So Harry’s digging further into the story, the club, those involved.
And still, Cora is in jail. Trying to remember what happened. She sees that masked man. Hears him: “Tell me.” When she responds with not remembering, he soothes her with a syringe and a “good girl.” Terrifying.
So, who was trying to get her to forget what happened that night? Somebody involved with J.D. surely. But who, exactly?
Pic 1AWell, when Harry tracks down a private medical clinic looking for a guy named Duffy, Daniel Burroughs, a white guy and a black there both make a run for it. Things go haywire. Duffy pulls a gun, then Officer Caitlin Sullivan (Abby Miller) puts a few shots in him. Is there more to Caitlin than we’ve been led to believe? Maybe I’m thinking too much. Either way the cops are left with half answers, seeing as how one of the men’s dead.
Who shows up at jail to see Cora? Her mother, Elizabeth (Enid Graham). Her daughter tells her about the night Phoebe died, how she met a boy, fell in love. Of course mom doesn’t want to hear any of that. Although the parents never called the police that night. Elizabeth says she heard them whisper “about Florida” and running away. But with a sick girl out there? Part of me thinks Elizabeth was happy. She’s an awful, awful woman.
In court, Cora decides to say her piece. She speaks to Frankie’s parents directly, apologising. “That is not who I am,” she weeps before telling the court about the people still out there, who held her hostage, buried her sister in the woods. However, it’s all done, anyways. She gets a minimum of 30 years in jail. Looking on, Mason (Christopher Abbott) is devastated, and Dt. Ambrose is, too.
So with our girl facing 30+ years in prison, what’s next?
One thing finally strikes me is that Harry isn’t just a masochist sexually. His job, in part, is masochism. Police work, the real stuff – not dealing with stolen BBQs like he is again, after the big case is finished – is like being in a masochistic relationship, where nothing feels good, it’s all pain. And now, returning to that regular, droning work, Harry’s truly tortured. Likewise knowing that out there are the answers to a dark puzzle, the last remaining pieces.
Screen Shot 2017-09-21 at 1.24.07 PMMeanwhile, Cora wants Mason, her little boy to move on. He won’t have any of that, he insists they’re coming back next week, and every week after that. I love the character development in Mason, as well. He’s been amazing. Abbott really brought out the emotions of this guy, and also we see how Mason went from a sort of jealous man to a wholly devoted, understanding husband.
Harry just won’t let up, though. He goes back to that clinic, seeking more clues. This leads him to find Maddie (Danielle Burgess). She’s got a little kid now, a girl named Winter. She changed her named, all of it. A “toxic relationship” with J.D. prompted the 180-degree turn in her life. She was there at the Beverwyck that night, but claims to have left before everybody else. But this also gets the detective aiming closer in the right direction, concerning J.D’s pill business.
Suddenly Cora’s been taken somewhere. To meet Harry. In fact, it’s the Belmont home, Frankie’s parents. She goes upstairs, but nothing seems familiar. Until she’s in a room where the wall’s paint is cracking; underneath is that wallpaper, reminiscent of the dollar bill. Hiding in plain sight. The key to her trauma.
Screen Shot 2017-09-21 at 1.34.05 PMFlashback to that infamous night. Frankie calls his father to come out to the Beverwyck. He rushes there and finds a dead Phoebe, Cora unconscious on the floor. His son explains what happened, wants to go to the hospital. Yet J.D. claims he’ll tell everyone about Frankie having sex with a sick girl, high on pills. This leaves dad and the drug dealer to deal with the body, and a very much alive Cora. They even cart the two into the woods in a trunk together. They dig a hole; in goes Phoebe. That’s exactly when Cora wakes up, seeing the abandoned bus in the trees. Frankie’s dad almost kills her before deciding on a different course of action.
So he brings her home, bloody and beat up. Mom’s involved at this point, Frankie is highly disturbed to see what’s going on. After that, Cora is kept in that room, tended to by the masked man in scrubs – dear ole dad – who dresses her wounds regularly, filling her veins with drugs to send her into oblivion. He and Mr. Lambert are still tied together by their nasty deeds, leading them deeper into business together; well, by blackmail.
When it’s time, Mr. Belmont digs into her arm with a needle, making her look like an addict. He brushes her hair, washes her, buys new clothes. A pretty good cover-up. Only now Dt. Ambrose and Cora, together, have completed the puzzle. So the truth is revealed, in that the Belmonts effectively killed their own son. When Cora confronts the father, she explains “I remember your eyes” and that she understands he did it for his son. Doesn’t make it any better.
Later in the car, Harry talks about understanding Cora, about blaming himself; just as she does. We get a bit of insight into his life, his past. “We didnt do anything,” he tells her in comfort. And finally, we take a look, briefly, at why Dt. Ambrose is who he is, a masochist, a man always trying to put himself back together. A beautiful bit of backstory in a subtle moment of dialogue.
Screen Shot 2017-09-21 at 1.40.50 PMBack in court, things are different. “Extreme emotional disturbance” takes a murder charge down to manslaughter. Cora is ordered to a psychiatric facility, rather than prison. She’ll get therapy, some genuine counselling; she’ll get help. And her family will be able to see her more, plus now they know the truth, the devastating events which led her to that day on the beach. Only two years, then she’s free. In some ways, this has helped Harry free himself, though ultimately he’s freedom is up to him. He has to find a way of dealing with the past: either his masochism, or emotional catharsis.
My favourite part of this series is that it helps us look into the lives of women accused of murder. Sure, there are legitimate cases. But there are far too many out there, most of which are likely unknown, where women have been brutalised by men, in so many terrible ways, leading to them committing a violent, or seemingly crazy act. Only to bear the brunt of the law where previously those men against which they acted were given leniency. The Sinner‘s examination of the case of Cora Tannetti is a great template for that whole idea, representing a microcosm of a harsher reality in this 8-part series.

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The Sinner – Part 7

USA’s The Sinner
Part 7
Directed by Tucker Gates
Written by Liz W. Garcia

* For a recap & review of Part 6, click here.
* For a recap & review of the finale, Part 8, click here.
Pic 1Cora (Jessica Biel) remembers one of Phoebe’s (Nadia Alexander) birthdays, the big 19! At the dinner table, after blowing out the candles, the birthday girl has to listen to a depressing story from her mother Elizabeth (Enid Graham) about when she was born. Then Phoebe opens her present from Cora, a beautiful sun dress for the beach. Only the girl doesn’t want to hear about her being “a miracle” or anything else. She’s sure she’ll die soon. And it’s as if she’s starting to resent her older sister, rather than being her close confidant.
That night, Cora is going out. She and J.D. (Jacob Pitts) have plans to run off. Phoebe wants to go out. She effectively blackmails her way into Cora taking her. So she puts her nice dress on, sneaking out quietly while their parents are sleeping. They go to a bar together. Music plays (“We Live Underground” by Lights On), people are swarming around them. Of course J.D. is there, greasy as ever. Then he offers the girls a couple pills. Cora declines, but her sister swallows one back before anything can be done. Holy fuck. That ain’t good.
Pic 1AIn the bathroom, Maddie (Danielle Burgess) starts getting into Cora’s head more. She talks about J.D’s previous girl, a pregnancy. Apparently Mr. Grease didn’t want any part of it, so the woman committed suicide, killing herself and the baby. That is some ugly shit. Things go haywire later when they’re leaving the bar. Phoebe pees herself, so they have to pull over. She’s peaking on the ecstasy, that doesn’t help. Then she figures out her sister was going to take off with J.D. and live together.
Back in the vehicle, they wind up at that big estate out in the woods, the Beverwyck Club. And who’s inside waiting in the dark? Frankie Belmont (Eric Todd). Looks like the place is deserted, he’s broken into the place. Everyone’s drinking, still taking pills. Frankie takes Phoebe on a tour while Cora trails behind. But J.D. hauls her off, to help with business, leaving her sister upstairs. Although for now Frankie seems like a nice guy. For now. Downstairs, Cora meets Tod Richter (Gary Hilborn), a prospective business partner to whom J.D. sells drugs.
Phoebe: “Lifes too short to be good, said the dying girl who has barely lived.”
When Tod shoots up he starts groping on Cora. Luckily, Maddie shows up. But that’s when J.D. tells her to get lost, very abruptly. The darker side of his personality, though we knew it existed, begins coming out for all to see. Plus, we can tell there’s something far more sinister happening in that room. I worry, a lot. We also figure out the story Maddie told earlier about the pregnant woman? That was about her, trying to kill herself. Everything starts getting scarier when J.D. becomes forceful.
So Cora heads to look for Phoebe, whom she finds slow dancing with Frankie in the small cabin nearby on the club’s grounds. It’s a sweet moment. Little sister doesn’t want to go home. Maybe ever again. When J.D. gets there they all head to the basement. Down that staircase we saw Cora remember last episode with Dt. Ambrose (Bill Pullman).
Pic 2They relax, they drink. Creepy Tod’s there. More drugs, a bit of music. Cora lets loose a bit when her sister urges. Things get a bit freaky once the sisters kiss, then Frankie and Cora kiss. And it seems like everyone’s having a bit of youthful fun together.
Then, we hear it. The song, “Huggin and Kissin” by Big Black Delta that’s become the signifier of some trauma. On the floor, high as hell, J.D. and Cora start to nasty. On the couch, Frankie and Phoebe lay together, kissing. Everything’s getting hot and heavy, all around. Little sister finally loses her virginity. A veritable sex party going on.
Frankie: “Theres nothing bad about this heart
That all changes when Frankie’s no longer thrusting. He’s trying to give Phoebe CPR. He pushes so hard that he cracks her chest. This prompts those familiar movements, the same ones Cora did while stabbing Frankie on the beach that day. After a moment J.D. cracks the older sister with an ashtray, knocking her out.
What happens next, we can already begin piecing together. Just never saw THIS coming, exactly.
Screen Shot 2017-09-14 at 1.52.54 PMWHOA. The craziest, most intense, nerve wracking episode of The Sinner! Can’t get any better than that. Really looking forward to the finale, I wonder how it’ll all play out. Surely going to be another intense chapter. I won’t get over this episode for a while.

The Sinner – Part 6

USA’s The Sinner
Part 6
Directed by Jody Lee Lipes
Written by Tom Pabst

* For a recap & review of Part 5, click here.
* For a recap & review of Part 7, click here.
Pic 1Last we left Mason (Christopher Abbott), he was heading up to see ole J.D. with a gun in his hand. We find him there now, as a couple people leave the house. Afterwards, he heads in slow. There he finds the guy dead already. Further in the baby’s crying. Then Mason calls the cops, even using the cellphone from the corpse’s pocket. He wipes his prints off and leaves.
Elsewhere by the water he thinks back to an earlier time with Cora (Jessica Biel), a happier time when they were enjoying each other, enjoying the relationship. A lifetime of happiness ahead of them. A far cry from where they are at this point.
Dt. Ambrose (Bill Pullman) has stepped over the line with his masochism. His mistress cuts him off, understanding something’s changed with him after she chokes him out. Something that she says is “a whole different game.” Just another rough patch for Harry to get through. There’s a lot of ’em. Meanwhile, he has Detective Farmer (Joanna Adler) taunting him over the “spider in [his] brain” that is Cora Tannetti.
Speaking of our lady, she’s talking with her lawyer who’s advising to take a deal. The woman’s back is against the legal wall. But Cora wants to stick with Harry. The guy is fighting for her, too. He truly is, it’s just hard when he’s up against a major mystery and Dt. Farmer’s disinterest in his theories. He knows, though. He’s gradually finding out more about the private club out in the woods. The key to all the trauma.
Pic 1AGlimpses of Phoebe (Nadia Alexander), perpetually ill, and a slightly younger Cora, who’s now got a “sex life” after so much repression. She sneaks out to be with J.D. who also has Maddie (Danielle Burgess) around, jealous of him being with another woman obviously. He has the talk of a pimp, of a man who exploits women. A patronising misogynist.
Poor Mason was in the wrong place, wrong time. Now he’s got Dt. Farmer asking him questions. To his favour, hopefully, he tells the truth. Honest about carrying a weapon when he went to visit J.D. Best of all is that he saw the car the men left in, leading to the cops tracking it down. At least they’ve got clues that help Mason.
And when he goes to see his wife in prison, he admits that in part all of this is his fault, as well. He knew there was “something wrong” a long while ago. He couldn’t bring himself to find out what it was, in turn, essentially, allowing the suffering in the person he pledged his life to be with, in sickness and in health.
This renews Cora. But can she push Harry away from self-destruction? The only thing he has left just about, with his estranged wife Faye (Kathryn Erbe) done seemingly for good, is his job.
More flashes back to Phoebe in the hospital, not doing well at all. Cora goes to her sister and lays in bed with her. The only two people in the world when they’re together.
Screen Shot 2017-09-07 at 1.27.55 AMHarry needs to convince the rest of the department, and a judge, that he needs to take Cora back to that club. To try dredging up repressed memories, to crack the case. Lucky for our detective he once busted the judge when she had a drink too many while driving, back in the day. So, permission granted!
Again we flashback. The slick talking pimp feeds bullshit into Cora’s head, trying to convince her that Phoebe is a “vampire” feeding of her, living vicariously through her. That they need to leave and get away. This is one of the worst things he’s done that we’ve seen so far, driving a wedge between the two sisters. I can see much more tragedy growing out of this act.
Up at the club in the forest, Harry takes Cora down to the basement. Past the staircase, into those unfinished rooms where ski masks hang on the walls, stray taxidermy left gathering dust, a little room with a computer. Yet she doesn’t feel anything’s familiar down there. A bust.
Another flashback to Cora coming home late, Phoebe upset. She wants to know everything about how J.D. touches her, kisses her. So much so she wants her sister to actually do it to her, as she’ll never experience it herself. The incest goes further than just a kiss or a fleeting touch. Fuck, that’s disturbing.
Screen Shot 2017-09-07 at 1.35.39 AMOn their way back, Harry takes Cora for a pit stop. Then she wants to go back to the club, even though they’re getting late for their return. If they’re not back in time a warrant goes out automatically. Uh oh.
Up at the club he takes her in one last time. She goes into the library on her own while Harry takes a call. After that he can’t find her. She’s gone. He finally finds her at a house a little ways off from the club. She’s stuck, gazing at staircase leading down into the basement. It makes her feel physically ill.
What lies at the bottom of those stairs, in the back of her mind? She speaks the words we all want to hear: “I remember now.”
Screen Shot 2017-09-07 at 1.43.29 AMHOLY JESUS, CORA! I’m blown away, I need more. Now.
Yet, Part 7 is a week away. Dying to find out the next piece of the mysterious puzzle.

The Sinner – Part 5

USA’s The Sinner
Part 5
Directed by Cherien Dabis
Written by Jesse McKeown

* For a recap & review of Part 4, click here.
* For a recap & review of Part 6, click here.
Pic 1Flashback to Mason (Christopher Abbott) and Cora (Jessica Biel), when little Laine was just a baby. “Slept through the night” for the first time. The typical things parents experience together. Just as quick, we’re back to the present with Mason, his parents Ron (Robert Funaro) and Lorna (Patti D’Arbanville) helping around the house. Then comes a call.
Another flashback shows a slightly younger Cora, an older Phoebe (Nadia Alexander), as they were planning a getaway from the ruthless religious household in which they existed with their mother Elizabeth (Enid Graham). They were saving up cash, looking for apartments, trying to find Cora a man. All under their parents’ nose.
Back out at the bus in the woods, Dt. Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman) looks over the human bones found nearby in the ground. Things are getting more tense in the case. He’s also got state police involved now, like it or not. He and Detective Farmer (Joanna Adler) go to question Cora together about recent developments. Only it’s all hard to explain, to anyone outside of her and Ambrose. Even he isn’t entirely sure what’s going on just yet.
Cora: “I didnt kill anybody
Farmer: “Else. You didnt kill anybody else.”
Pic 1ALooking around a ways off from the body site, Ambrose stumbles onto a piece of private property. He walks in to the gate, around it, and finds a massive estate sprawling over the land. Quite the place. He gets inside, finding a staff member at the place, getting a few answers and hopefully more to come. Wandering around he sees a bit of wallpaper that might just be the kind Cora spoke of before.
A strange twist of fate, as Cora winds up at a religious group in jail. Listening to their prayers she flashes back to being in that place, with the masked man, the wallpaper. She’s under the bed, an I.V. tipped over on the floor. “Howd you get all the way down there?” asks the masked man.
This is the theory I’ve had for some time – she was drugged, forced into prostitution. When she and Maddy escaped from that place, the latter was killed, buried out in the woods. Guaranteed. Or perhaps there are more twists and turns yet.
The Tannetti family are being ripped apart. People are spray painting their vehicles with KILLER BITCH, dumping garbage all over their lawn. Mason’s parents are fed up. He’s barely hanging on by a thread.
There’s also more going on in Ambrose’s life, too. He and Faye (Kathryn Erbe) have a marriage in a death spiral. She regrets their bit of reconciliation, feeling he’s not there even when he is physically. Back at the station, he’s being chastised for “barging in” on the club at the estate, a high profile guy there representing the place and its interests. Oh, you know some shady, fucked up shit is going on up there. YOU KNOW.
Pic 2Dt. Farmer is barging on ahead herself, without consulting Ambrose. She busts J.D’s girlfriend on the drugs, hauling her in for questioning. She’s already pursuing charges against Cora for the dead body. Well, we see that she’s also accusing our detective of being sweet on the accused. I don’t think it’s that, at all. I feel like he genuinely cares and wants to find out what happened to her, to know the truth. He’s got his issues, no doubt. He’s a brutal masochist. But a cop in love with a suspect, no sir.
They do have a connection. It’s one of trust. She calls him, wondering if she ought to take the latest offer. However, he wants her to hold on, so he can chase down his lead on the club.
On the street, Mason’s father is beaten by J.D. with a baseball bat. Holy shit. Then we cut back to see Cora when she first meets J.D. on a dark road, ironically helping her out of a bad jam with a potentially creepy dude. After that it’s off to a house party together. Immediately he’s working his charm, pretending he wants to get to know her. A very Manson-esque personality. All brings us to her losing her virginity to him.
That night when she got home there’s a scene. Mom calls her a “whore” while Phoebe is hyperventilating, worrying over her big sister. Quick cut back to the present, as Dt. Farmer grills Cora about J.D. and the found skeleton. Meanwhile, Ambrose is back up at the club poking around, he finds a staircase leading to the basement; looks familiar, only without the wallpaper. Further in are masks hung on the wall in the dark, ones we can recognise easily.
But can Harry break the case wide open before Farmer uses her fake sympathy on Cora to make a deal? Our girl’s not having any of it. What’s worse is that Mason is heading for J.D. with a gun in hand. Both of Laine’s parents might be in jail soon. Uh oh.
Screen Shot 2017-08-31 at 1.56.49 AMEvery episode of The Sinner is heavy as hell. New things come to light with each chapter, the darkness gets deeper and scarier, the emotions more intense. Part 6 is next week, and I don’t know how they’ll top this one. Although I say this every week.

The Sinner – Part 3

USA’s The Sinner
Part 3
Directed by Antonio Campos
Written by Derek Simonds

* For a recap & review of Part 2, click here.
* For a recap & review of Part 4, click here.
Pic 1Cora (Jessica Biel) lies in bed, in jail, dreaming of home. She later talks with a psychologist, who takes her back through old memories of being 13. She’s asked what she’d tell herself, back then. She replies: “Run.”
Out on a trek, in a stark juxtaposed shot from the inside of Cora’s cell, Dt. Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman) and his semi-estranged wife Faye (Kathryn Erbe) are hiking, and he is sweating it out fierce. At the station, he’s not entirely thrilled with the psych report, as it doesn’t seem out of whack. He’s wondering about the song that played on the beach, the one which triggered the exact identical response in the interrogation room with her. Psych says it’s possibly linked to PTSD.
Harry: “So, shes somewhere else, and shes stabbing someone else.”
At home, Mason (Christopher Abbott) is continually dealing with the fallout, the media attention. His wife calls, asking to see their boy. She’s in a bad space, though the father doesn’t sound averse to bringing him to see his mom. One ray of light in the life of Cora. Only that doesn’t turn out so well, once Mason doesn’t bring their child to see her, realising this could and likely will be a long, difficult road. After finding out things from the cops about her former life.
Harry goes to see the Laceys, adopted family of Cora – Elizabeth (Enid Graham) and William. They say she ran away five years, about the Fourth of July, a day before. Of course mom calls the girl selfish, so on. Sick little Phoebe died only weeks after Cora ran off. It’s obvious just from being around them something wasn’t right between the two adopted parents and Cora.
Note: We keep getting the wallpaper imagery, and now we’re going deeper inside. A great visual representation of going deeper into the walls of a home, discovering what’s actually inside as opposed to whatever it might look like on the outside.
Pic 1AWe see more of Cora having nightmares. Terrible ones. She loses her mind in the night, having a dream of a woman telling a man to “give her another hit” and then someone steps right down on Cora’s chest, it cracks. As guards come to subdue her, she pleads they don’t put anything in her arm. When they pull up her sleeve they see the dried, cracking wounds of an old injection site, a veritable crater. Same goes for her other one, too.
Before Cora met her husband, after she left home, she got hooked on heroin. But there’s a deeper story. And Dt. Ambrose is going to get digging. He finds out something else, that Cora had a new visitor recently: Margaret Lacey (Rebecca Wisocky), the cool aunt. Seems Cora disappeared a long while, then showed up at a detox centre. Elizabeth refused to have a “whore” and a “degenerate” living with her, so aunt Mags took her. Yet she blames herself for ignoring the “signs” of something larger wrong. Like a large, jagged scar on the top of Cora’s head, one her aunt never discovered the story behind.
Quick flashes to the old Lacey home, Cora as a teenager. Dad isn’t happy sharing a room with his daughter, so long. There’s many nasty things going on beneath the curtains here. So then dad takes sick Phoebe, transplanting her back into the room with Cora, where the two girls eye each other with a strange emotion running like a current between them. Afterwards, they have an awkward discussion. And Phoebe, for the one slowly dying, is surprisingly more free than her sister, knowing about sex, even reading a stashed magazine she took from the hospital.
The further Harry gets into the details, the more he sees a sort of spiralling abyss into which he’s falling. Someone named Caleb Walker brought Cora into the rehab facility several years before. It also didn’t look like she was a regular junkie, she was clean, wearing new clothes. Strange, no? Meanwhile, Harry’s got himself a problem. He might be fixing things up with his wife, but he’s still hooked on his dominatrix lover; she purposely spills oranges in a grocery store, watching him as he dutifully picks it up.
Pic 2More flashes back to the past. Elizabeth finds the magazine from the girls’ room, and so Cora takes the blame, admitting to her apparent sins. “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned,” she and her adopted mom pray together, kneeling painfully on a line of dry white rice (at least that’s what it looks like) in penance. It’s the little sister who later must try getting through to the older, to show her all this religious stuff is bullshit. That’s when the two bond mischievously over makeshift communion, wine and crackers, lying on the floor next to the crucifix together. Interesting to see how the young would choose to worship Jesus over how the older, more foolish deem it necessary to be afraid of God, to be scared of his power. These two merely tell Christ they love him, caressing his wounds.
Phoebe: “Cora, God doesnt listen.”
Sitting around with people at home, Harry has to listen to other people talk about their perceptions of Cora’s case, from what they know in the media. One guy’s pontificating too hard for his liking, so he gets a bit mouthy. That night he and Faye try connecting physically again.
Mason is still looking for J.D. and he’s tracked him to a bar. They wind up in a bit of a fight after the guy’s nonchalant about the whole ordeal. This puts the cops on Mason, luckily Caitlin Sullivan (Abby Miller) helps as much as she can, what little she can.
Back at prison, Harry brings in the tools of the trade, asking Cora to show him how she shot up heroin. Except it seems she doesn’t know much about the process, really. So, what exactly happened to her back then? Was someone force feeding her the drug? Oh, I’d bet on that. She barely remembers the two months she was gone; “fragments,” she tells Dt. Ambrose.
Pic 3Was Cora forced into prostitution? It seems like an almost human trafficking-type scenario, a pimp plying her with heroin to sell her off. I can’t help believe it’ll never be so simple; ugly, but not simple. We get a last flash, of that room with the black wallpaper, a man in a strange mask, kind of like a ski mask, and he asks: “How are you feeling today, Cora?”
Pic 4Whoa, this episode – like the one preceding – blew the lid off my expectations. There’s so much more to this story than I ever thought. Can’t get enough of the mystery, plus the well drawn characters like Harry Ambrose, who make the picture that much more complete. I’m frothing for the next episode! Part 4 is next week.

SURVEILLANCE Twists Through Labyrinthine Crime-Horror

Surveillance. 2008. Directed by Jennifer Lynch. Screenplay by Lynch & Kent Harper.
Starring Bill Pullman, Julia Ormond, French Stewart, Ryan Simpkins, Cheri Oteri, Charlie Newmark, Shannon Jardine, Pell James, Michael Ironside, Kent Harper, Gill Gayle, Mac Miller, Caroline Aaron, & Hugh Dillon. Lago Film/See Film/Film Star Pictures.
Rated R. 97 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Horror

★★★★1/2
POSTERJennifer Chambers Lynch has followed in the large footsteps of her father, not exactly on the same path but a similar one. Her 1993 debut Boxing Helena was not well received, nor did it really gain a cult following later on; I’m a fan, although I do understand why people don’t dig the film. It was tough to digest and her directing style hadn’t yet solidified, obviously just her first time out as director. I consider it a horrific metaphor for the male gaze and its will for control.
It was fifteen years later she gave us Surveillance. It begins as a simple cops-versus-serial killer-thriller involving a bunch of people who come together in a small town police station after tragedy strikes along the highway. Later, it becomes something far more sinister. Lynch doesn’t opt for the existential-type film her father David does so well. Here, the style is straight forward. The storytelling is the key here. Where other films with this mix of drama, crime, and horror might take a simple road, Lynch weaves through the cracks of the various characters lives, dissecting truth from lies and leading us to a savage conclusion.
Maybe it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I just can’t deny a well written and executed piece of cinema that has suspense, tension, plus an interesting twist right before the end. Lynch went on to do more interesting movies after this one, not making us wait another decade and a half again this time.Pic1 Part of why I love the movie is that the script doesn’t necessarily hide everything, the big twist. It does, and doesn’t all at once. Sure, you can go back and pick out all the moments where we could’ve previously unlocked the secrets. If you pay attention closely, the first time around it’s all there to chow on. Like when Pullman and Ormond’s characters are sitting in the car before going into the police station. There are some great bits in this short scene. From there it only gets better. As the plot gets closer to the finish you can, possibly, start to see where everything’s headed. If anybody says they “guessed it” at the star they’re liars. This plays as a nice dramatic horror with no frills for the longest time. Until Lynch and co-writer (as well as one of the film’s actors) Kent Harper flip every last thing we know on its head.
The characters make the story totally worth it, from Pullman and Ormond with their FBI agents, to Kent Harper as one angry (and fairly morally vacant) police officer, to the various people along that lonely stretch of road from Hugh Dillon to the always enjoyable Michael Ironside. The best part is how everybody who survived to tell their story at the precinct tells slight-to-fairly large lies about what they were doing before shit hit the fan. All except for the little girl, whose character is as interesting as any of the grownups.
Just the screenplay itself and how it’s laid out works for me. The story gets told in flashbacks mostly leading up to the reveal of truth in the finale. However, what I dig is that we get to see exactly who tells the truth, or how they tell it. Nobody is safe from scrutiny. Once the finale comes down and we understand everything with clearer eyes, we see how the truth’s been manipulated on all ends, with no exception. The story twists together with all the characters and their various truths like the braids in a knot tightening. Truly an excellently written screenplay with strong storytelling.
Pic2 The ensemble cast really does work wonders. I mean, even French Stewart is spot on as the other half of a nasty cop duo with Harper. Both of them make things interesting, especially in the big sequence after everybody’s stopped on the highway, as we see the story in flashback. Everyone is on par, too. Cheri Oteri and Hugh Dillon make an awesome couple, the kids hold up their end, as well. Particularly that little girl, Ryan Skimpkins – she makes that role stand out amongst all the adults, which gives the end even better impact with her doing such good work.
Of course, the main two that help Surveillance float along perfectly are Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond. They’re offbeat, strange. You immediately feel their chemistry together, as their FBI characters roll into the tiny town in order to figure out what’s been going on with two serial killers roaming from state to state, killing anybody in their path. Ormond gives Elizabeth a sense of having lost the chance at motherhood, or perhaps a woman who wants to have that but because of her lifestyle simply cannot. Regardless of which it is, Ormond makes the woman feel very real, so genuine. Alongside her there’s Pullman, whose weirdness permeates almost every single scene he’s in. The way he delivers lines, how he allows Sam to be a friendly type yet standoff-ish at the same time is near genius. Best of all, Pullman really comes out of his shell later on, as the plot necessitates a… different performance. All together, this cast is so strong that even if the writing wasn’t as good they’d be able to pull it off anyway.
Pic3 Personally, Surveillance is a 4 and 1/2 star affair, every time I watch it again. The first time I wasn’t so sure if I enjoyed it, or if it was only all right. Each viewing brings me closer to realising how god damn wonderful Jennifer Lynch’s movie is, and how the writing is just a slice of greatness. Quality writing doesn’t have to fool anybody. What Harper and Lynch do here is make a bunch of characters, developed in their own right, come together in a creeping, quiet story that sneaks up on you. By the time all the nasty action comes down on top of the viewer, Lynch has made sure we’re lulled into a sense of normalcy. When we’re fixed on determining the truth from lies everything happens fast. Then we’re caught up in the whirlwind.
Give this a chance. It’s an odd bit of horror piled high with dramatic tension. Some awesome performances hook us on the line and never let go. Let the film sink in. The style, the look, everything is tight, and makes for an unexpected treat. After you see this, and hopefully you enjoy it, check out Lynch’s next film Chained. Another macabre dose of cinema.