I saw 13 Cameras at Screamfest last year, and it was probably the most effective movie in the fest. It doesn’t really have set pieces you might talk about or put in a trailer, but it’s got a very clear agenda and sets about delivering on that goal precisely. It’s way more sure of itself than the movies with more spectacle, and I’ll take overall tone over sporadic moments any time.
Ryan (PJ McCabe) and Claire (Brianne Moncrief) move into a cheap apartment with a creepy landlord (Neville Archambault). Claire is pregnant and Ryan is cheating on her. They don’t even know what the landlord is doing right under their noses.
13 deals with a similar sort of secret home invasion fear as many other horror movies. The difference, and it’s a significant one, is that 13 Cameras isn’t even an invasion by an outsider. It’s the landlord himself. Usually it’s a killer who snuck in. So always check references, people.
The drama of Ryan and Claire takes up an equal part of the story, and distracts them from possibly noticing their landlord stalking them. It’s mundane adultery drama but it’s believable that this is another guy who thinks he’s the first person to ever be unsure of his monogamous relationship. Unbeknownst to them, the landlord slowly invades more and more of their privacy until they’re in real danger.
Moncrief and McCabe are convincing in that you believe they are your regular average couple, and understand why they’re oblivious to danger. The story doesn’t have to contrive far-fetched reasons for them to neglect to notice a stalker. The standout performance is of course Archambault. He makes the landlord creepy enough that you’re afraid of him, but in a way that normal, awkward people can make you uneasy. If he really was your landlord, what could you say? He’s not making an actionable threat until it’s too late.
The message of 13 Cameras could be to be present and be aware of your surroundings. Getting wrapped up in your own drama could be detrimental to your safety. Or it could be simply that in this economy, people have to live in sketchy, risky places because it’s all they can afford. Writer/director Victor Zarcoff crafted a memorable thriller out of these fears, and 13 Cameras really gets under your skin.