13 Cameras. 2016. Directed & Written by Victor Zarcoff.
Starring Neville Archambault, Sarah Baldwin, Sean Carrigan, Jim Cummings, PJ McCabe, Thomas Modifica Jr, Brianne Moncrief, Heidi Niedermeyer, Ethan Rosenberg, & DeForrest Taylor.
Unrated. 87 minutes.
There are many ways in which found footage can be used, depending on what the aim of a film is, or what sort of plot it entails. Footage can be incorporated as plot points, such as in the thriller Evidence a couple years ago. Then there’s the classic camera in the woods plot which has popped up time and time again since The Blair Witch Project‘s wildly unpredictable success. The Poughkeepsie Tapes take us into the fake documentary on a serial killer’s still unsolved rampage, where as [Rec] gives us a unique glimpse into the outbreak of a zombie virus.
In some ways, 13 Cameras is similar to the recent Hangman, though, they are each certainly different. What this film does is use the sort-of-home invasion premise, turning it into something vastly more unsettling by becoming a suburban drama filled with the fear and paranoia of a horror-thriller. There isn’t anything particularly innovative. Nothing at all. However, 13 Cameras can get eerie, it unfolds at a slow pace that forces you to let the creeps set in. The cast are all pretty solid and especially the lead creeper, Neville Archambault, whose central performance as the villain of this story is hypnotically grim.
Ryan (PJ McCabe) and Claire (Brianne Moncrief) are a young couple, expecting a baby. They move across the country together and find a nice new little house into which they can move. There, they meet a very odd, slightly off-putting man named Gerald (Neville Archambault), their new landlord. He shows them around the place and they are more than happy to be living there. Little do they know that Gerald keeps too much of a watchful eye on his properties, and more specifically his tenants.
As time goes on, the couple and their idyllic family life starts to crumble. Ryan begins having an affair with a woman at his office, Hannah (Sarah Baldwin). Yet an affair is the least of the couple’s worries. Soon enough, the horrific aspects of living in their new home become evident, as landlord Gerald reveals his inner nature.
What I’m immediately happy about is that 13 Cameras writer-director Victor Zarcoff chose not to do this completely in found footage style. Yes, there is an element of it present, as Gerald watches his tenants via hidden CCTV. These only play a part. Most of the action here is in the psychotic psychology of landlord Gerald. We watch him watching them, then we awkwardly, tensely watch as he infiltrates the lives of this young couple. Furthermore, some of his actions play into their personal life without him even being apparent as the puppet master. All the more eerie.
What Gerald’s character calls into questions is the prevalence of home security systems and the rise of surveillance in the everyday market. Should so much be available to the public? There’s no telling where people can have cameras anymore. Bad enough if they’re in public places, but in your home? This is the ultimate home invasion, as Gerald is supposed to be a trustworthy man, he is in a position that’s meant to be one of authority which also comes along with the responsibility of guarding someone’s privacy in certain senses. So Gerald is the supreme violator here by both entering this couple’s home unannounced and also putting surveillance equipment in there. Double whammy.
Simultaneously, though, the character of Ryan is juxtaposed against this other larger evil. His cheating is, yes, leagues less serious than what Gerald is up to all the time. At the same time, seeing Gerald witness the acts of betrayal on Ryan’s behalf becomes a part of this madman’s delusions, likely thinking this young pregnant lady needs saving, or needs a ‘better man’. Inadvertently, Ryan puts his wife in danger; he breaks his vows, as well as urges on a psychopath.
Archambault is completely horrifying. Because while there are moments he explodes, the majority of his time on camera is quiet, pensive, and he doesn’t even speak much, barely at all. With a highly emotive performance Archambault makes this slumlord into an imposing figure. He doesn’t need to be constantly killing, or sitting in front of his computer monitor with the cameras on stroking one out. Gerald becomes a more sinister character as time passes, so that near the end his presence is like that of a monster.
The finale ten or fifteen minutes is chaotic, in a good way. Things start deteriorating and the showdown between Gerald and his tenants turns into something extremely dangerous. We descend into a lot of darkness compared to the first two-thirds of the film. As everything hurtles towards insanity all the shadows of the house are suddenly deeper, darker than ever before, and no longer is the home a safe haven. At least not for this young couple.
There are some bits and pieces that could definitely have used tweaking. Certain moments pushed the limits of plausibility in this otherwise very raw, real take on suburban paranoia and fears. Still, this is a decent 3&1/2-star horror that has its deep roots in drama. Not near perfect, but 13 Cameras offers a different twist on the home invasion genre fused with aspects of found footage. And while there’s nothing exactly new here, the movie is suspenseful, it has a heavy dose of tension, and the ending is fairly chilling. You can do far worse if looking for a creepy little flick with a lead performance that will have you reeling.