13 Cameras (Review)

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13 CAMERAS (FKA- “SLUMLORD”)

THE SETUP

This is a review for the Drama/Thriller, “13 Cameras” formerly known as “Slumlord”, Written and Directed by first timer, Victor Zarcoff. 13 Cameras centers on pregnant newlyweds, Ryan and Claire (played by PJ McCabe and Brianne Moncrief) who move into a new house, hoping to sort through some of their marital issues. Little do they know, their beastly, grimy and brutish landlord, Gerald’s (Neville Archambault) been spying on them through a number of hidden cameras in and around the house. The film also stars Sarah Baldwin, Jim Cummings and Heidi Niedermeyer. I’ve followed 13 Cameras, or Slumlord as I knew it, for a while now. I first heard about the film over twelve months ago and it sounded vaguely like Randall Cole’s “388 Arletta Avenue” (one of my personal favourite home invasion films), at least in terms of the presentation. You know, misguided loner with voyeuristic tendencies, invades a house unbeknownst to the occupants. There’s no doubting that premise has been covered numerous times over the years, so it’s a matter of what one can do to bring something new to the table.

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THE GOOD

The core idea behind Zarcoff’s film is an extremely unsettling one. Often in these types of films, the invaders are simply a faceless presence, a man and or woman behind a mask. As much as I enjoy a good masked orientated, home invasion film, said method always separates fantasy from reality. There’s something to be said about watching a face and a persons physical response to any given situation. The someone is always watching you, “big brother” aspect of the film, is a clever presentation because it’s never been as prevalent as it is in today’s society. We have social media avenues like Instagram, Snapchat and Video Call/Skype being used by millions of people all over the world and hidden cameras have long since been a thing you’ve heard being misused. 13 Cameras swiftly alternates between the hidden footage and a conventional shooting style. We never really see a complete layout of Ryan and Claire’s place and we usually only see the end of Gerald’s process of placing or fixing cameras. That ploy of Victor’s keeps the visuals interesting because you never know where you’ll be viewing footage from. The placement of the camera’s are smart and I particularly like the locations in the shower, the ceiling of the bathroom and the corner of the pool. All the routine camera work looks good as well and the framing is consistent. The audio levels are bright and the score, much like the development of the story, is subtle. It’s usually a thin layer of bass with vibrations in the mix, always very inconspicuous (like Gerald himself), with a potential to erupt.

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It’s interesting to watch the different points of view between Claire and Ryan, in regards to their relationship and its current condition. Before we discover the inner workings of their marriage and what might, or might not be happening, it’s made clear that she’s more concerned about her physical appearance during the pregnancy, while he is concerned about the lack of intimacy. It highlights widespread issues that do arise between partners and specifically differences between men and women. The writing involving Gerald is approached with caution, Zarcoff keeps this lump of a man a complete mystery to the audience. The way he sets his cameras up really makes the house feel claustrophobic. At first, he seems to just get off on watching Claire, along with co-workers and friends of the couple but it’s not long before he’s sniffing bath towels and test tasting toothbrushes, of course this is all his own form of affection, For who? Claire?.. we don’t really know. My favourite scenes were those of Gerald productively crafting, how to isolate a specific character. The idea felt very much like something a logical thinker would arrange. The standard of acting from the younger members of the cast is decent. I realized I’d seen both Sarah Baldwin and PJ McCabe in an amusing short film called “Shark Pool” and Moncrief spent several years on “All My Children” so she’s had plenty of experience. The remarkable story here is Neville Archambault, a very distinctive and powerful looking man, who reminds me of a cross between Michael Berryman and Brad Dourif (coincidentally both were in the Oscar-winning “One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest”).

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I did some research and found out that Neville did a bit of Acting when he was younger but then had a lengthy break (not sure if forced or not). Since then, he’s gotten some small roles and done a few short films but I don’t imagine he’s done anything quite like 13 Cameras before. This is brilliant casting by Zarcoff because Archambault’s such a menacing looking guy (although I’m sure he’s really nice) and that’s exactly what the role required. Neville delivers a truly intense performance, mostly conveyed through his penetrating eyes and stare, or the incessant sweat seeping from his forehead. He does have a dozen lines of dialogue or so throughout the film but his voice rarely gets above a mutter or an impatient grunt. I hope this piece of work acts as a catalyst in him getting future work in the industry, particularly anything Crime/Suspense or Horror related, which I think suits him to a t.

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THE BAD

All of the issues I had with 13 Cameras are in relation to the script and its lack of sufficient discourse. The film only runs 90 minutes but it’s definitely what I would describe as a slow burn, it works both for and against the film, depending on your personal preference. There’s some stupid decisions made throughout and a couple of predictable plot points, one of which was made more obvious because I’ve seen it in several other films. I don’t think it was actually shown on-screen but it’s clear Ryan gives someone in particular (no spoilers) a spare key to the house, this someone could potentially be a very risky commodity, yet he still does it. At one point, Claire rings Gerald because they’ve got a blocked toilet that needs fixing. Upon his arrival, he precedes to get “handsy” with Claire’s belly, telling her the baby’s a girl. As if somehow he’s determined that via a premonition or something equally as ludicrous, yet Claire doesn’t think to tell Ryan what happened. Okay, I guess you could say at that point there were no obvious reasons to think Gerald was anything other than an old landlord but still. The only continuity mistake I could find was with the blood on the driveway. After another session playing prowler, things escalate. Gerald is checking over some of his earlier video footage and notices some blood near where he parked his van. Following that, Paul, one of Ryan’s friends, arrives to check on the place but by that time the blood has disappeared. It wasn’t clear at all what happened with that, Where did it go?

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There’s no sugar-coating it, soon to be father, Ryan, is a complete jerk and for no apparent reason, at least nothing that’s divulged through the limited amount of background information. Yeah sure, he’s a guy questioning some of his life choices but he never attempts to really deal with it, instead lashes out at those around him. In the context of the movie it works but given his label, everybody else needed to be better developed. The friends are only involved to potentially be used against the couple, other than co-worker, Hannah, nobody else had much substance. Gerald is shrouded in ambiguity, which can be a gamble to take with your audience but with a performance like that of Archambault’s, you’re probably safe. I tend to like plenty of exposition surrounding characters, so I definitely could’ve done with a bit more in regards to our mysterious, glass wearing landlord. By the time the film rolls around to it’s not so big finish, some of the momentum has distinguished. 13 Cameras never really reaches that next height, our protagonists don’t ever really feel exposed, or at least if they do, they don’t show it. There’s not even a great deal of surprise from them when they do realize what the house owner’s been up to this whole time. Zarcoff continues to tease you with an explosive payoff in the cross hairs that sadly never really leaves the chamber. Neville does his best work during the build up and then when the finale comes, it’s all a bit rush rush.

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13 Cameras is a filmmakers directorial debut and a very solid one at that. Victor’s taken the familiar premise of a home invasion and made it downright disturbing by painting it in a natural light, something other films in the genre don’t always capture. The camera work is solid and its voyeuristic nature works superbly, due to well positioned hidden cameras. The soundtrack lingers just enough to be eerie and a few specifics in the writing translate well to the screen. The upshot here though is Neville Archambault. This guy has given us something that’s been desperately long overdue, a really unsettling portrayal of a lonely but seemingly normal man. There are no masks, no facades, nothing separating fantasy from reality. In the end Gerald is just a man, a dangerous man. There’s the odd continuity blip and some of the poor decision-making and lack of information sharing, stretches the plausibility somewhat but not enough to take away from the end result. I think 13 Cameras hit its straps early but never spiraled into the complete madness I was hoping for. We don’t learn anything of importance about Gerald and our key couple remain partly undeveloped to, in turn holding the weight of this one down a bit. I’m looking forward to seeing what Victor does next and if you get the chance to watch this, give it a spin, you won’t be disappointed!

My rating for “13 Cameras” is 6/10

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