Studio: Gravitas Ventures
Director: Victor Zarcoff
Writer: Victor Zarcoff
Producer: Kevin McManus, Matthew McManus, Tony Yacenda, Ethan Rosenberg, Jim Cummings, Benjamin Wiessner
Stars: PJ McCabe, Brianne Moncrief, Sarah Baldwin, Jim Cummings, Heidi Niedermeyer, Neville Archambault
A property manager takes a twisted interest in his tenants’ personal lives while watching them through hidden cameras.
Ryan and Claire’s new home is nearly a dream house for the expecting young couple. Among other amenities, the layout features a pool in the backyard, a den doubling as an office, and a nursery for the baby in Claire’s belly. What Ryan and Claire don’t know is that the house is also outfitted with a casino’s worth of hidden cameras and microphones pointing provocatively at the bed, into the shower, even from the toilet bowl.
It seems Claire’s raised eyebrow instincts about creepy landlord Gerald were right on the money. From the privacy of his nearby lair of lustful leering, Gerald enjoys his own personal version of “Big Brother: Suburbia Edition.” When Ryan and Claire are not around, he makes uninvited inspections, too. These visits consist of everything from a quick swim to licking Claire’s toothbrush before tending to a secret construction project in the basement Gerald claimed didn’t exist.
Things take a turn when Ryan’s assistant Hannah is revealed as a secret mistress. Hannah is ready to blow the whistle on their office affair, but how might such trouble complicate Gerald’s regular routine of privacy invasion? It might be time for the perverted property manager to take a more active role in determining this love triangle’s outcome.
“13 Cameras” answers the question of what a “found footage” film looks like when it isn’t “found footage.” The premise practically screams for the first-person format, and has already been done as such in Adam Mason’s similarly conceived “Hangman” (review here). With its traditional filmmaking approach, “13 Cameras” ends up the superior of the two films, and that has to do with being liberated to let the camera, cutting, and Paul Cole’s suiting score contribute to mood in valuable ways that are impossible when stuck on a wall mount in night-vision mode.
Saying that something is patient about its pace is usually a way to turn a phrase other than the overused “slow burn.” But “slow” isn’t an accurate descriptor for “13 Cameras” anyway because its momentum is always moving forward through conversation or subtlety.
Writer/director Victor Zarcoff is being deceptive when lingering in uneventful moments. What he creates is a series of scenes focused on giving viewers perpetual discomfort as opposed to palpable dread. “13 Cameras” doesn’t evoke the same menace one gets from a stalking serial killer with a mask and a machete. It is a feeling of unclean sickliness with a disquieting sense that a guillotine blade of greater danger is always looming overhead.
Neville Archambault doesn’t do too much as Gerald. He doesn’t have to. Gerald is a mouth-breathing shambler, constantly sweating and panting, communicating only as much as necessary and even then only with half-interested grunts. Under a cracked lens, Gerald is also a misunderstood misfit, perhaps attempting to protect Ryan and Claire’s marriage in his own weirdly warped way. His introverted awkwardness is sympathetic. His grotesque presence is unsettling. Impressively, Archambault conveys all of this through gait and glances. His natural physicality is exaggerated to be inherently eerie but the mind Archambault employs behind motivations and movements makes Gerald a fully-formed figure of fear.
The way “13 Cameras” introduces viewers to the tension of Ryan’s extramarital affair and then holds them there through Gerald’s eyes is captivating. Placing the setting in anyone’s backyard grounds the story in a simplicity that is frightfully relatable. Once hooked in, “13 Cameras” has everyone snared right where it wants for the final act explosion to hit with maximum collateral damage.
By itself, Ryan and Claire’s marital melodrama doesn’t have the depth to be more than 15 minutes of filler for an average daily soap opera. And on its own, Gerald’s sleazy surveillance could be just another “sinister eyes secretly watching” setup for an inevitably violent climax. By overlaying the middle class melancholy with the landlord’s lurking threat, “13 Cameras” puts a fresh coat of paint onto otherwise average plotlines. The two threads are then able to combine for a tight thriller loaded with smoldering suspense.
NOTE: “13 Cameras” was previously titled “Slumlord” and also goes by "The Landlord" in the UK.
Review Score: 80