13 Cameras (2016)
A young couple expecting their first child rent a house from a very unusual landlord unaware that he has installed cameras everywhere and is obsessed with watching their lives.
Neville Archambault - Gerald
Brianne Moncrief - Claire
PJ McCabe - Ryan
Sarah Baldwin - Hannah
Heidi Niedermeyer - Audry
Jim Cummings - Paul
13 Cameras is prone to soap opera drama at times but has an incredibly fun and compelling antagonist who makes things interesting every time he’s on screen.
Claire (Brianne Moncrief) and Ryan (PJ McCabe) are a married couple with a child on the way, looking for a new home. They are shown around a beautifully remodelled house owned by Gerald (Neville Archambault), an extremely odd and barely communicative man. Claire is immediately repulsed by the man, he smells bad and is a very odd character. However they really like the house so they take it, not knowing that Gerald has filled the place with tiny security cameras so that he can watch their every move. He watches the lives of this unhappy couple who rather than being thrilled at the idea of bringing a life into the world are instead fighting on a regular basis. Ryan confides in his buddy Paul that things have been bad and he’s hoping the new house will cheer her up. At the same time he can barely muster the enthusiasm to help Claire decorate for their incoming infant. What’s more, he’s having an affair with his assistant and he’s so brazen as to bring her over while Claire is out. Ryan thinks that he’s getting away with his deception not knowing that Gerald is glued to his monitors, watching everything he does. As Gerald’s obsession with Claire deepens he decides to take matters into his own hands.
Shown on the festival circuit last year as “Slumlord”, 13 Cameras really is an odd, very off-kilter little horror flick.. Ostensibly it’s a horror film about a really, really strange guy secretly watching a couple and becoming obsessed with the wife. Really, though, it’s more like a low-key relationship drama that occasionally reminds you that you are in fact watching events at the same time as a really weird, twisted dude. Ryan is as much the villain as anybody here, Brianne Moncrief brings a sweetness and hope to the role as the pregnant Claire, whenever she holds her pregnant stomach defensively it’s difficult not to feel for her. Therefore it’s natural to start hating Ryan once you realize what a cheating asshole he is. PJ McCabe plays Ryan as a total jerk, a guy you want to see get found out and to get his comeuppance. This understated drama can certainly make things feel a little uneven when we suddenly cut to Gerald and we’re reminded of the horror that will ensue.
What is commendable about the way newcomer Victor Zarcoff handles things is the recent tropes of horror cinema that he is able to avoid. Despite a large portion of the story concerning secret security cameras placed throughout the house, this does not devolve into a found footage film nor is the picture marred with deliberate poor quality picture and totally redundant on-screen displays. Using these tricks to get away with having to make a good-looking picture just means that even though the majority of this film is set in one location it looks great, adding production value. If there’s any complaint with the look of the film it’s that 13 Cameras does not do a good job of establishing the layout of the house. When the events of a film take place mainly in one location this might not seem like a big thing but knowing where the psycho is in relation to the intended victim really does help add to the suspense. There are scenes towards the end of the film where the house is shrouded in darkness and it’s at times difficult to tell where everybody is, a vital detail when setting up your scares.
That’s not to say that 13 Cameras isn’t scary however and this is mainly due to the casting of Neville Archambault. Even in the trailer he stands out as a thoroughly unique and unusual horror antagonist. A monster of a man, Archambault plays Gerald as someone barely functioning in reality. Ragged, in need of a shave but thick and muscular with a distant look in his eye, his muscular stature betrayed by his slumping shoulders and generally slouched demeanor. He doesn’t wear a scary mask or some odd outfit, he’s a much more believable maladjusted human being. His scenes with other characters usually consist of him staring, open mouthed, directly at the person or somewhere into the middle distance. Everybody knows there is something up with this guy and with good reason. He’s a large, strange and very strong man with a very twisted sense of good and bad. But whenever we are shown little glimpses into his life he becomes more and more interesting. Almost like he’s the star of the film in some way. There are even moments of humor throughout the film and they all come from things Gerald has done or odd decisions he has made. As the film goes on and he becomes more bold and confident it seems that he thinks he’s doing things to protect Claire. Afterall, he’s seeing all of the things her cheating husband is doing and is almost a proxy for the viewer. It makes for an interesting dynamic and even if the film is a little flat when the soap opera-y stuff kicks in, Gerald brings us crashing back down to earth in all his creepy, sinister glory.
So this movie is a quandary, on the one hand a lot of the film is a low-key soap opera-esque drama about a relationship falling apart. Except we are frequently seeing things through the eyes of an overgrown, obsessive lunatic whose life we also start seeing more and more of. Gerald is by far the best thing about this movie and if you can swallow the more drab parts to experience this fantastic horror antagonist then you will have a good time. Considering this is the first film from writer/director Victor Zarcoff it definitely shows promise and is a fine debut.