Friday, January 13, 2017

Triskaidekaphilia: '13 Seconds' (2003)

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

I've watched a lot of bad movies for this project, but perhaps none as completely inept as writer/director/star Jeff Thomas' 13 Seconds. In many ways, 13 Seconds is just a typical shitty ultra-low-budget horror movie, corralling a bunch of characters in a creepy location and killing them off one by one. And certainly there are plenty of cheapo indie horror productions that are just as bad as 13 Seconds, or even worse. But there are also plenty that manage to make the most of their limited resources, to write clever dialogue or interesting characters or to exhibit some visual flair even without sophisticated visual effects. Thomas manages none of that, although he did manage some pretty impressive distribution for this terrible, terrible movie, as many of the scathing IMDb reviews (complaining about renting the movie at Blockbuster and other video stores) attest. I easily found a DVD copy at my local library.

Shot on what looks like consumer-grade video in Thomas' native Detroit and populated with actors who aren't even up to the standards of community theater, 13 Seconds is without any sort of merit, even as a campy source of mockery. It's so technically inept that characters have conversations without ever appearing in the same shot, and much of the post-dubbed dialogue doesn't even sync up with the movements of the actors' mouths. The story features the members of a rock band (who never play any instruments or even attempt to set up their gear), plus a few hangers-on, converging in an old abandoned building (which is possibly a school or a house or a theater, and includes an art gallery, multiple bedrooms and a dark basement) to record their latest song or album or maybe video. As with everything in the movie, even the basic setup is unclear and glossed over, like Thomas couldn't be bothered to come up with a proper explanation or even a simple logline.

But the setup is the least of the movie's problems, really, since plenty of horror movies contrive thin reasons for characters to end up in a dangerous place, and still manage to generate suspense and scares from the situation. But everything else about 13 Seconds is as listless as its initial premise, and the terrible acting undermines any possible tension in the story. It's impossible to understate just how bad every actor is, and Thomas deserves much of the blame, since in addition to writing and directing, he also stars as the movie's main character (whom the eventual idiotic twist reveals as really the only character of any consequence). Once people start going missing and/or turning up dead, no one in the cast can even muster any energy to express fear or anger or concern, and nearly every line reading sounds like the character is on the verge of falling asleep.

That may be because multiple characters do go to sleep, just taking naps in creepy bedrooms in this abandoned building, even though theoretically they are all there to record and/or rehearse music of some kind. That allows Thomas to stage multiple fake-out dream sequences, which make even less sense once the ending reveals (spoiler alert, I guess) that nearly the entire movie is a dying vision of Thomas' character Davis, who has experienced it all in the final, yes, 13 seconds of his life (he's dying of a drug overdose). So why does his vision include other people's dream sequences? That's just one of the many, many incomprehensibilities of the movie's plot, which throws a bunch of ghost/demon/spirit things around without ever clarifying what they are or why they are there. Even the final explanation that it's all Davis' death dream (which I suppose absolves Thomas of having to create any logical consistency) is vague and rushed, turning one of the previously anonymous supporting characters into an angel of sorts, ending on a quasi-religious message. I was dreading the movie turning into a Christian allegory, but like everything else Thomas attempts here, the religious angle is a complete failure in concept and execution.

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