Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Triskaidekaphilia: '13 Cameras' (2015)

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13.

Originally titled Slumlord, 13 Cameras has ended up with a less evocative title for its home video release, although the nastiness promised by the original title turns out to be in short supply. The movie opens with some ominous statistics about the use of surveillance cameras in the United States, with a mosaic of images of unsuspecting people having their private moments caught on camera. But it's not really a cautionary tale about technology invading people's privacy; the use of surveillance cameras is just a generic plot device to facilitate the stalking of boring young couple Ryan (PJ McCabe) and Claire (Brianne Moncrief) by their creepy landlord Gerald (Neville Archambault).

Gerald also isn't a slumlord -- the house he rents to Ryan and Claire is a perfectly lovely suburban home, aside from its many (almost certainly more than 13) hidden surveillance cameras, which he uses to spy on them from an unspecified remote location. Gerald is so cartoonishly creepy that it's hard to take him seriously as a threat, even when he eventually kidnaps Ryan's mistress Hannah (Sarah Baldwin) and holds her captive in the house's secret basement, as Ryan and Claire obliviously go about their business. That business makes up the bulk of the movie, which is more of a tedious relationship drama than a suspenseful thriller.

Ryan and Claire fight about little things while Ryan sneaks off to sleep with Hannah (his secretary) and Claire complains to her mom and her best friend. Claire is pregnant, and the couple has moved into this nice house in the suburbs to start a family, but there's no sense of connection or affection between them, even if it's been lost. They seem to barely even know each other, which makes it really difficult to get involved in their constant bickering. Neither one is particularly sympathetic -- Ryan is having an affair with another woman he also doesn't seem to have any passion for, and Claire is a stereotype of the whiny, needy wife. Also, Gerald is constantly lurking in the background, and Archambault and writer-director Victor Zarcoff make him such a distinctively repulsive character that he completely overshadows the boring, self-absorbed protagonists.

Finally, around 15 minutes before the end of the movie, Gerald and the couple confront each other, and Zarcoff builds some decent suspense out of what is a sort of home-invasion thriller in which the invader owns and is intimately familiar with the home. But all the effort to make the audience care about Ryan and Claire's boring marital problems is completely wasted with a nihilistic ending in which none of it matters anyway. Gerald isn't an interesting character, either, and Zarcoff never bothers to reveal his motivations or background or even what he does when he's not watching Ryan and Claire. He has a great look, and Archambault really commits to his unpleasantness, but he isn't an effective villain because he's a complete cipher. Like too much about this movie, Gerald gets an intriguing setup that amounts to very little.

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