Watching the Watcher
13 Cameras (Slumlord) (2015): 8 out of 10: 13 Cameras is better than it needed to be. A true slow burn horror movie is more about the creepy atmosphere and good characters than any jump scares or gross out scenes. 13 Cameras has two intertwined plot lines. We have a young expecting newlywed couple Ryan (PJ McCabe) and Claire (Brianne Moncrief), moving cross-country and nesting in a new rental. Then we have their creepy landlord Neville Archambault who has placed cameras all over their rental and whose voyeurism seems to escalate into something more.
The Good: First, as I stated in my review for the sequel 14 Cameras thank God this is not a found footage film. It would have been so easy for writer/director Victor Zarcoff to have taken that lazy route. While we have moments of voyeurism through the point of view cameras (And lets face it all film is a voyeurism of one kind or another) Zarcoff allows the story to breathe outside of these confines. In fact, even though the vast majority of the film takes place in one house, it never feels that it is a budgetary crunch as much as a natural part of the story.
Now I gave 14 Cameras a 4 out of 10 and yet I recommend this movie. I confess I would have probably enjoyed 14 Cameras a little more had I seen this film first (The key phrase being a little). Neville Archambault’s creepy landlord didn’t really do it for me in the sequel as he was fully formed into a kidnapping serial killer monster. In 13 Cameras, he starts as just a creepy incel voyeur and the slow burn as he pushes boundaries is a delight.
The real difference between the two films, however, is that in 14 Cameras, the family being stalked was some of the dullest people ever put on film. Here, however PJ McCabe and Brianne Moncrief as the young couple could have carried their own film without the creepy landlord. PJ is carrying on an affair behind his pregnant wife’s back with his assistant Hannah (Sarah Baldwin). His wife is older, and he felt a little pressured into the marriage. With her in full nesting mode and him the only breadwinner he responds to the pressure with the affair.
This felt awfully real to me. PJ isn’t some mustache twirling villain. He is an immature man playing a role and in full panic mode as he is about to leave a large part of himself behind and go into full adult mode. (Admittedly he should have had this come to Jesus moment when he got married. But real life can be like that.) When his mistress pressures him to leave his wife, he rebels realising that ending the affair and taking the correct path is his better choice. It all goes sideways for him. Unrelated mind you from our stalking landlord.
13 Cameras threatens to go into full Amityville II: The Possession land where the haunted house wasn’t needed for the plot. Fortunately, our creepy landlord plot complements this story line quite well. One of the nice twists in 13 cameras is our bad guy seems to take it upon himself to help make this young couple’s marriage work. I mean kidnapping the mistress and chaining her in a rape/torture dungeon seems extreme but you need to think about the baby. It gives Neville Archambault’s character a nice incel twist where he is protecting the wife from her immature husband’s poor decisions.
The Bad: If you don’t buy into the couple’s story, you are in for a slog. (I bought into hook line and sinker mind you. I have been that idiot, so it struck me as an excellent characterization.) Not much happens during the first three quarters of the film outside of the drama mentioned above. While I appreciate the slow burn, those looking for a more traditional horror film may very well be disappointed.
The Ugly: I am not saying that if I found my mistress chained in my basement a week after she mysteriously disappeared, I would suspect my wife. But I don’t think I would have been so quick to not to suspect her.
In Conclusion: Any review reflects both the article being reviewed and the personal experiences and taste of the reviewer. I admit I probably liked this one most than most will. The couple’s story line worked for me. I also liked Neville Archambault’s landlord character more in this one. He seemed a lot more realistic. Which makes him a lot scarier. We have all had creepy landlords (or maintenance guys) in apartments we have rented. Writer / director Victor Zarcoff successfully exploits this universal experience in 13 Cameras.