A review of a 13 Cameras screened at the 17th Annual Nevermore Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina.
Do you sometimes feel like you are being watched? Are you ever worried that someone may have surreptitiously hidden a camera in whatever changing room, bathroom, or other supposed “private space” that you are using? In 13 Cameras, writer/director Victor Zarcoff plays off this modern paranoia, putting the viewer in the shoes of both the viewed and the voyeur. When it come to voyeurs, none is more disturbing than Neville Archambault as Gerald, the creepiest landlord ever. At turns menacing, creepy, disturbing, and darkly humorous, the film is delightfully unsettling.
The film centers around a young couple, Claire (Brianne Moncrief) and Ryan (PJ McCabe) who have just moved across country to be closer to Ryan’s new job. Claire is pregnant with their first child. They rent a house from Gerald (Neville Archambault), an older gentleman with a slack-jawed expression and decided lack of people skills. While they are put off by Gerald’s apparent lack of hygiene and general manner, they do not know the full extent of his creepiness. Gerald has hidden numerous tiny surveillance cameras around the house and is using them to spy on the couple. Isolated from all but a few of friends, Gerald and the audience watch as the couple’s marital problems start to surface. As the couple’s relationship worsens, Gerald’s obsession with Claire increases. This leads him to place even more cameras in their house, and, eventually, to even bolder actions on his part.
13 Cameras uses an interesting blend of found and traditional footage. The found footage aspect of the film incorporates views from the numerous (13?) tiny security cameras that Gerald has hidden around the house and property. Through these cameras, both Gerald and the audience view some of the intimate and the more mundane events in the couple’s life. This puts the viewer in the uncomfortable role of the voyeur, making them feel dirty, and not in a good way. Cinematographer Jess Dunlap‘s use of traditional footage allows the story to go beyond the strict confines of the security camera. The filmmakers avoid having to make the logical leaps and plot gymnastics often associated with found footage by fill in narratively with traditional footage.
The acting from the leads is fairly solid. Brianne Moncrief and PJ McCabe do a good job breathing life into the troubled couple, though unfortunately, there is not much for them to do. It is just that their characters are not as developed as they could be, coming across more as character archetypes than fully fleshed-out individuals. PJ McCabe’s Ryan is primarily shown as a selfish, lying husband. He is given a slight chance at redemption later in the film, but it is not really enough to count as a full character arc. Brianne Moncrief does her best with a similarly flat character, Claire. Claire is primarily the put-upon wife/victim. She is not given a chance to really develop fully. This is a shame, as one gets the feeling that both Moncrief and McCabe can handle more complex characters.
While Brianne Moncrief and PJ McCabe do a fine job as the couple under scrutiny, the real success of the film comes from the strong and fun performance by Neville Archambault as Gerald, the World’s Creepiest Landlord. In his dingy t-shirt, you can almost smell the BO coming off of the character. While using few words, and generally wearing an almost slack-jawed expression, Archambault’s Gerald is not a dumb, hulking, brute. Gerald can also be physically menacing and imposing where needed, but he is also methodical and calculating. Watching Gerald coldly and efficiently carrying out his plans is chilling. Gerald’s transition from voyeur to a more active participant in the proceedings is smooth and believable, in no small part to Mr. Archambault’s performance. Gerald is the dirty, disgusting, disturbing, and nasty heart of 13 Cameras, and the film is all the richer for it.
If you want to be both disturbed and amused, then check out 13 Cameras. Does it really deserve quite as high of a score as I give it below? Probably not quite that high, as the characters themselves are fairly flat. Yes, Neville Archambault’s performance alone is enough to recommend the film. The film fully accomplishes what it sets out to do – disturb, disgust, and amuse the viewer, in no small part to the fantastically creepy performance by Neville Archambault as the skeeviest landlord ever put on film. The film leaves the viewer wanting to take a shower, but maybe only after thoroughly checking the bathroom for hidden cameras. I had a ball and highly recommend seeking this one out.
13 Cameras (4.5 / 5)