'13 Cameras': Film Review

13 CAMERAS  - H 2016
Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures
Only intermittently suspenseful.

Society’s increasing penchant for 24/7 video surveillance is explored in this low-budget thriller.

A nasty little piece of work that should serve as a fine calling card for writer-director Victor Zarcoff, 13 Cameras turns a home security CCTV system into a stalker’s super-weapon in his campaign to terrorize a suburban couple. Alternately both repetitive and repulsive, this home-invasion thriller never quite hits its stride, but a brief theatrical release may generate enough word of mouth to buoy VOD, where it’s mostly likely to find traction.

Recently married, 30ish couple Ryan (P.J. McCabe) and Claire (Brianne Moncrief) move from New York City to California so that Ryan can take a new job while Claire focuses on nesting and preparing for the birth of their first child. They rent a two-bedroom house with a swimming pool from Gerald (Neville Archambault), a slovenly and taciturn loner who lives in a nearby apartment and manages the home as an income property. Unknown to the new tenants, Gerald has installed a closed-circuit TV system with hidden cameras throughout the house (and even in the shower), clearly with the intent of observing their activities rather than providing security.

He soon observes that the couple’s latent marital problems are reasserting themselves, principally because Ryan is cheating with this cute assistant Hannah (Sarah Baldwin), even risking discovery by inviting her over to the house when Claire is out. Their steamy affair makes for some explicit footage that Gerald avidly views on the cameras installed in the pool and master bedroom. Ryan rationalizes that he needs Hannah’s affection because Claire can’t satisfy his needs since she’s so distracted by her pregnancy. However, when Hannah becomes more assertive about claiming Ryan’s loyalty, insinuating herself into his relationship with Claire, the situation escalates beyond what any of them could have anticipated and Gerald soon faces more problems than he expected renting to the young couple and exploiting their vulnerabilities.

Formerly titled Slumlord while making the festival rounds (an odd choice for a film taking place almost entirely within a middle-class, suburban ranch-style home), Zarcoff’s feature debut displays an imaginative sensibility, but suffers from uneven pacing, lurching from one plot point to another and defying logic as Gerald repeatedly sneaks into the house to tweak the camera setup while Ryan and Claire are out, never arousing suspicion. Subsequent developments prove significantly more extreme, boosting tension, but not credibility.

Archambault does what he can to animate a character who’s almost entirely lacking a backstory, shambling and antisocially grunting his way through the movie, but never revealing much about Gerald’s motivations beyond his creepy voyeurism and potentially violent tendencies. As the young couple, McCabe and Moncrief serve more as placeholders than fully developed characters, generically fulfilling the roles of exploited victims.

Rather than relying entirely on the closed-circuit camera setup, Zarcoff integrates those sequences into his overall coverage, avoiding a found-footage approach that might be too disorienting to provide adequate continuity in any case.

Production company: 30 Bones Cinema
Distributor: 79th & Broadway Releasing
Cast: P.J. McCabe, Brianne Moncrief, Neville Archambault, Sarah Baldwin
Director-writer: Victor Zarcoff
Producers: Kevin McManus, Matthew McManus, Jim Cummings, Ethan Rosenberg, Benjamin Wiessner, Tony Yacenda
Executive producers: Jordan Rudman, Andrew van den Houten
Director of photography: Jess Dunlap
Production designer: Charlie Textor
Editor: Derek Desmond
Music: Paul Koch

Not rated, 99 minutes