“Claire and Ryan, a newlywed couple, move into a new house across the country, only to find out that their marital issues are the least of their problems.” — IMDb
13 Cameras (originally titled Slumlord, which I like waaaay better) is director Victor Zarcoff’s directorial debut (anyone noticing a theme in my movie choices lately?), and it’s an impressive one. It may not be the most original as far as subject matter goes, but I thought it was well-paced and held up a creepy atmosphere throughout.
Ryan (PJ McCabe) and Claire (Brianne Moncrief) are a newlywed couple who move into a new house across the country. Tensions are high as they are settling in to a new home while expecting their first baby, but things take a much worse turn as Claire’s suspicions about their creepy landlord turn out to be more true than anyone could imagine…
** SPOILERS! **
Above all else, it needs to be stated how perfect Neville Archambault was for the role of the scumbag landlord, Gerald. He easily stole the show with his ability to make your skin absolutely crawl even with the slightest look or exhale of breath. The scene where he comes to fix the toilet (which was just because he needed to readjust the hidden camera, NO BIG DEAL) and has the most awkward, uncomfortable moment with Claire as he forcefully places his hand on her pregnant belly… yikes. Even just seeing his grimy, oily face — almost shimmering in the blue light of the TV screens as he watches their every move (and sometimes re-watches them on a loop) — was disturbing. If anything, I almost thought he overdid it at times — like, guy, every single person who comes into contact with you know you’re deranged, dial it back a bit — but it worked for the most part.
On the flip side… I felt like everyone else’s acting was subpar. Not bad, by any stretch, but just… mediocre. Unconvincing.
We know that Gerald is spying on them from the very opening scene, but the little clues here and there that they notice — Claire scrunching her nose as she sniffs her toothbrush (that he had earlier put in his mouth), looking perplexed as she wonders where a piece of her hanging laundry disappeared to, wondering why the dog keeps getting sick if no one is feeding him table food — are perfect.
In tandem with Gerald becoming more and more ballsy, we have the drama of Claire and Ryan’s marriage (or lack thereof) unfolding. There’s this sense of everything rising up to a fever pitch and with every phone call, every return home, every time Gerald’s van pulls into the driveway, you feel like SOMETHING is bound to implode (like when Ryan rushes Claire to dinner before Hannah can arrive, or when Gerald sneaks in while Claire is in the shower). But I actually appreciated, in an odd way, that I never felt a desire for them to patch up their marriage and live happily ever after. I worried that it would be the direction the movie would go in — that the experience would make them realize how important they were to each other and there would be this tearful exchange of promises to make it work — but I was pleased that it didn’t go that route at all, since they were so obviously mismatched (and Ryan was suuuuuuch a dick).
But back to Gerald. There was just something about how calculated, how methodical, how obviously experienced he was that was just downright scary. He wasn’t just a passive viewer… he improvised and updated as he went along: adding a pool camera when he heard Ryan making swimming plans with his girlfriend, adjusting the shower cameras for a better view, soundproofing the basement in preparation for a prisoner. The very idea that he was so intertwined in their lives without them having any idea was so unsettling — like when Claire sees their dog, Baron, warm right up to him and says, surprised, “he doesn’t like anyone!”… but we know it’s because he’s been feeding him bacon cheeseburgers during his regular visits. UGH.
I thought the music overall was atmospheric without being overpowering, though I didn’t notice it a whole lot (which, honestly, is a good thing). But the use of sound in general — particularly when he opens the newly soundproofed basement door and we realize just how effective it is by the sudden burst of Hannah screaming and then immediately silenced upon its closing — was pretty great.
The ending I am not 100% sold on (I’m like 90%, relax), but ultimately I liked it as a darkly comedic twist that also managed to show just how prolific his victims are.
Overall, a super solid introduction to Zarcoff’s work — I’m on board for more!
Rating: 6/10 | Director: Victor Zarcoff | Writer: Victor Zarcoff | Music: Paul Koch | Cinematography: Jess Dunlap | Starring: Neville Archambault, PJ McCabe, Brianne Moncrief, Sarah Baldwin, Jim Cummings, Heidi Niedermeyer