14 Cameras. Directed by Seth Fuller & Scott Hussion. Screenplay by Victor Zarcoff.
Starring Neville Archambault, Chelsea Edmundson, John-Paul Howard, Lora Martinez-Cunningham, Amber Midthunder, Brianne Moncrief, Hank Rogerson, Gavin White, & Brytnee Ratledge.
30 Bones Cinema/Hood River Entertainment
Not Rated. 90 minutes.
Only recently did I discover the unsettling 13 Cameras was getting a sequel, unsurprisingly titled 14 Cameras. Even while Father Gore admittedly enjoyed the first movie, a sequel’s never guaranteed to be as good as or better than its predecessor. The surprise I did receive was this sequel’s even better than the first, taking what was scary about it and going bigger rather than trying too hard to replicate whatever amount of success the movie achieved by retreading all the same moves.
14 Cameras expands the story of slumlord Gerald (Neville Archambault), showing us how many properties he manages, the extent to which his whole operation reaches. That alone is enough terror. Add in the proliferation of electronic spy equipment across North America, the greasy economy of the internet and all its inherent dangers, and the story gets far more unsettling.
In a day and age where stories about landlords spying on their tenants have become sadly commonplace, 14 Cameras is incredibly relevant. It reflects the fears we have about urbanism, all the anxious aspects of living in a city. Moreover, the movie reflects the fears of young people who live in an increasingly more expensive world with less jobs, forced to take whatever real estate we can afford, often despite our various worries. Now that Airbnb’s become a legitimate industry on its own, the terrors of real estate are vast— the most frightening we’ve seen since the end of feudalism and the beginning of private property. As a character, Gerald represents so much of what scares us about an economy where renting a house is the most accessible option to the majority of people, a deal we enter with a landlord only knowing what they’ve allowed us to know. And what we know can most certainly kill us.
There’s an expectation of privacy when you rent. It’s built into a proper lease a landlord can’t just show up, they have to give 24-hours notice. Otherwise, it’s an abuse of bourgeois power against the working class renter having their privacy intruded upon. The four walls of their home is meant to act as a kind of sanctuary. The interior, by law, is protected from the exterior. In a figurative sense, the interior protects those within it from the exterior, as well.
What’s scary about Gerald is, he’s in a position of power as an owner. His infiltration of his tenants’ space(s) is a violation of rights by a person meant to be trusted. Those with the economic means are the ones with power. Gerald exploits people without any, by watching them, putting live feeds online and making money off the streams, and so on.
Today, there’s an even more extended sense of trust put in the owners of houses and apartments put on Airbnb. That’s to say, the temporary landlords are not people we get to know like a more long-term landlord, bound by leases and other protections. These owners are literal strangers, the law tenuously keeping them from exploiting everyone who walks through their doors. These owners are – like in Gerald’s case – also able to mask themselves in the anonymity of the internet.
There’s also the wide availability of security cameras making things scarier. Gerald uses this to his advantage, putting cameras in every room of the house, embedded in light fixtures and electrical sockets. While this works fine as a creepy landlord spying, it works as an allegory for modern state/corporate surveillance, the eyes of companies and the government constantly watching. All spaces are fundamentally exterior now, the interior becomes vague and undefined— all but vanished. Add to the cameras the internet and, figuratively – though here quite literally – the whole world suddenly gains access to your home.
“Can you just give the place a chance? It’s not like it’s going to kill you.”
Facebook, iPhones, Alexa, and more have already invaded and monetised privacy. We pretend as if they haven’t, or that it’s the price we pay for modern tech. But Gerald is, essentially, symbolic of capitalism invading the privacy of the individual. Like these types of technology evaporating the private sphere, Gerald relies on a lack of attentiveness and a complacency towards safety in our own homes. Technology, and modernity, has left us trusting too much in its illusion of safety, and this vulnerability is exploited by the bourgeois, whether it’s a company trying to sell us products while mining our personal lives for data, or an insane, murderous landlord using people as commodities.
The scariest part is, on the one hand, Gerald’s streaming the people in his houses, making money off live streams and maybe a bit of extra cash for stolen goods. On the other hand, he’s a psychopath, not averse to murder, rape, and other brutality. This further reflects a modern sense of randomness: sometimes psychopathy seems to have a purpose, and other times it’s merely random perversity, here enabled by an online community. When it comes down to it, Gerald rents out bodies and space, an inextricable allegorical link to the process of economic power/control exerted by landlords over their renting tenants. Real estate is a horror movie all on its own.
There’s no doubt 14 Cameras is better than its predecessor, amping up its themes and taking on a broader story. A movie like this is perfectly timed, given the fact millennials and post-millennials are going through the shit in a terrible economy. Personally I rent, and I know the downfalls of having to deal with shady landlords. None as bad as Gerald. However, here in my city there was a case recently that makes me automatically think of Gerald. I start to wonder how often these types of things happen, and just imagining the answer makes my skin crawl.
Those of us who fall into the working class, or lower, are at the mercy of those who own real estate. There are absolutely terrible tenants. But the tenants are, more often than not, put in the position of disadvantage, just by virtue of not being the one who owns property. We can go all the way back to Marx, back to problems of feudalism which extended into the ownership of private property, and everywhere in between, as capitalism took hold of everything, promising so much and delivering so little while bleeding the every-person dry.
Ultimately, Gerald is a character who represents the psychological terror and the very real, visceral horror of the rental economy, and he eats at the heart of our sense of safety in modern society just because we’ve signed our name on a piece of legal paper. If you don’t find that creepy, I’m not sure what scares you. The modern world is dark and full of terrors.