If you go over to Netflix right now, you can watch a film called 13 Cameras. 13 Cameras had a brief VOD and theatrical run earlier this year and, in 2015, it got some attention on the festival circuit where it played under the title Slumlord. It’s a film about a creepy landlord who rents out a house that is full of surveillance equipment and, what else can I say other than…AGCK!
I mean, this is a seriously creepy little movie and it’s even creepier if you actually have a landlord. I’ll admit that I’ve been checking the house for hidden cameras ever since I watched 13 Cameras.
Now, admittedly, 13 Cameras moves at a very deliberate pace. This film may be slightly less than 90 minutes long but it still requires a bit of patience. When the movie started and I first met Ryan (PJ McCabe) and his pregnant wife, Claire (Brianne Moncrief), I have to admit that I had my doubts about 13 Cameras. Both Ryan and Claire were such unlikable characters that I wasn’t sure that I wanted to spend any more time watching them. Claire came across as being the epitome of the self-centered friend who you always dread getting a phone call from while Ryan … well, Ryan was just a huge jerk. Because he was having a hard time adjusting to his wife’s pregnancy, he was cheating on her with his assistant, Hannah (Sarah Baldwin).
“Do you still love her?” Hannah asks him at one point.
“I don’t know,” Ryan shrugs.
(Interestingly enough, Hannah is probably the most sympathetic character in the film, despite the fact that she’s having an affair with a married man. I don’t know if that was intentional or if it’s just a result of Sarah Baldwin being a more likable performer than either McCabe or Moncrief.)
But no matter! In the end, the film really isn’t about Ryan, Claire, or Hannah. The film is about their landlord, Gerald. Gerald is totally frightening and he ends up doing some pretty bad things. (In fact, some of the things that he does are so awful that it’s actually probably for the best that Claire and Ryan aren’t particularly likable.) Gerald is played by an actor named Neville Archambault and, after I saw 13 Cameras, I immediately jumped over to his imdb page and I was both surprised and somewhat relieved to see pictures of him looking like a perfectly normal and pleasant human being. Because, in the role of Gerald, Archambault gives perhaps the creepiest psycho performance since William Tokarsky played The Killer in Too Many Cooks.
From the minute that Gerald shows up on-screen, he inspires unease. He’s a hunched over, heavy-set but muscular man who speaks only in grunts. He shuffles around, keeping his head down and perpetually breathing through his mouth. When he sits in his apartment and watches the footage from the 13 cameras that he’s set up around the house (including one located in the toilet — ewwwwwwwwwwww!), he sits there with his mouth open and literally never blinks. When she first meets him, Claire complains that Gerald smells like “spoiled mayonnaise” and looking at him, you can imagine the odor almost seeping out of the screen.
What makes Gerald especially frightening is that he’s a believable psycho. As I watched, I realized that I could easily imagine running into Gerald in real-life and then it dawned me that I actually have seen people like Gerald in real-life. Gerald is the guy who, when you have to talk to him, spends the entire conversation answering in monosyllables and staring at your breasts. Gerald is the disgusting, frightening psycho next door and the fact that you could easily imagine seeing Gerald walking down your own street is exactly what makes this film compelling. Neville Archambault deserves a lot of credit for bringing a nightmare to life.
As for the film itself, it requires patience but it pays off in the end. First-time director Victor Zarcoff does a good job, despite having to work with an obviously low-budget and only two locations. The film ends with a perfectly morbid little twist. While it’s not perfect, it’s definitely a promising debut.
Do I recommend watching 13 Cameras? I do. If for no other reason, see it for Neville Archambault’s wonderfully creepy performance!