Because of the market here in Toronto, it’s rather difficult to find quality apartments at a price that won’t have you selling your firstborn, your kidney, or your firstborn’s kidney in order to afford the rent. That said, at least the likelihood of ending up with a scumbag landlord is low. And there’s a very good chance that you won’t end up with a psychopath for a landlord that spies on their tenants, unlike the family in Victor Zarcoff’s 13 Cameras. Previously titled “Slumlord”, this FrightFest 2015 entry has an April release in the USA, and definitely has the creep factor going.
With their first baby on the way, Claire (Brianne Moncrief) and her husband, Ryan (PJ McCabe), decide to move into a new home to better accommodate their new family. While their new landlord, Gerald (Neville Archambault), is kind of an oddity, they accept it and go about their business. Unbeknownst to them, Gerald has installed numerous hidden cameras in the home, and watches the couple’s every moment. Things take an even darker turn when Claire and Ryan begin to have marital difficulties, and Gerald becomes more invasive.
13 Cameras deserves praise for the choice of Archambault as Gerald. Archambault definitely fits appearance-wise with what many would consider to be lecherous or just plain weird. But the real testament to Archambault’s abilities is the character’s body language as he shuffles into the room or just stares for prolonged periods. It just makes your flesh crawl. And that’s on top of the moments of voyeurism. Of course, Gerald is keenly deceptive, and at certain points in the film, his physicality comes into play. And thanks to the great choice of shots (more on that in a bit), those moments are pretty unsettling. All of this makes for a memorable antagonist that’s not only strange, but dangerous. As for Moncrief and McCabe, they too turn in a great job. They feel real as a couple and in their performances, especially when things start to break down in the marriage. You want them to succeed, and that’s in spite of a certain something that I won’t spoil for plot’s sake.
First-time director Zarcoff does a strange tip-toe into the found footage genre with 13 Cameras. But unlike many of the films that have wrung the subgenre dry, this film doesn’t exploit it. Rather, while it’s a necessity for the story, it’s thankfully not overused. When it is used, there’s a real sense of perturbedness with seeing what Gerald sees. There’s a real feeling of invasion of privacy as you see Ryan and Claire go about their daily routine and seeing them interact. Of course, that’s only one part of the shots that make up the film. Zarcoff is also able to create mood with the more traditional shots and the film’s ominous score (such as the sequence involving Gerald soundproofing the basement), as well as create “loud” moments for when that tension needs to be released (such as Gerald finding a stranger in the house). It’s a great effort that gets the appropriate jumps when needed.
Probably the film’s biggest weakness is unfortunately in its finale. While the good use of suspense throughout the film is carried over into its climax, it’s not as suspense-filled as you’d hope. Part of the problem is that the pacing throughout the film, while methodical and consistent, doesn’t ramp up as high as it should. It’s made up for with the last shot, which is both unexpected and blackly humourous, and elicited a smirk on my end.
13 Cameras is certainly an impressive debut for Zarcoff. Crafting an effective story from behind the lens that oozes discomfort through smart use of the surveillance cameras, Zarcoff also scores a great performance from his cast. Archambault is amazing as Gerald in both mannerisms and appearance, and steals the show. While the film doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it’s a great little film that fans of systematically paced thrillers should enjoy.