Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Triskaidekaphilia: '13teen' (2005)

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

The number 13 is an easy thing to throw into the title of your shitty straight-to-video horror movie in order to make it sound more ominous, and that seems to be exactly what happened with 13teen, whose original (and less scary) title was For Sale by Owner. Of course, the new title makes no sense (how do you pronounce that -- "thirteen teen"?), but it at least looks cool on the DVD box. The movie itself is not nearly as badass, however. It's a slow, tedious and poorly acted thriller with dialogue that sounds like it was written by an alien who doesn't quite understand human interaction.

The original title refers to the fact that the house where all the action takes place (even exterior shots are so close on the house that you can't see the surrounding street) is for sale, or so it seems to Andrew (John Lansch), who shows up with some papers to sign for the sale of the house. Andrew's job isn't quite clear -- he calls himself something like a real estate contracts coordinator, but then for some reason he also sells life insurance -- but he apparently has to close the sale of the house immediately or lose his job. The owner, Sera (Amanda Brown), tells him the house isn't for sale and he has to leave, but he pleads that he can't go out in the rain, so she lets him wait inside.

Writer-director Pritesh N. Chheda seems to be trying to slowly build tension between the two characters, and later a third, an alarm-system repairman who also comes off as suspicious, but that mostly means that they make intense, cryptic pronouncements at one another for two-thirds of the movie, while various news reports clue the audience in that a serial killer (who carves the number 13 into his victims, almost justifying the modified title) is on the loose. Did Sera accidentally let a killer into her house? It's hard to work up much interest in the mystery, since all of the characters are creepy weirdos with serious emotional issues, and the actors deliver their lines like they're reading out of a textbook.

Eventually there's a lame and obvious twist, and while it does mean that something finally starts to happen, it also sort of undermines any previous suspense that might have been created. 13teen isn't scary or disturbing or involving in any way, but at least it ended up with a nonsensically cool title.