Movies · Reviews

13 Cameras Worms Its Way Into Your Crevices

Zarcoff’s script sticks to the basics and makes no real attempt to strike fresh ground, but Slumlord delivers well on that simple, unembellished premise.
By  · Published on April 12th, 2016

Are you at reading this at home? Are you comfortably tucked into your bed or maybe reclined in the bath? I don’t want to alarm you, but there’s a chance you’re being watched. Surveillance cameras have gotten smaller, cheaper and more effective over the years, and there’s a chance — especially if you’re renting a house or apartment — that someone is spying on you right now. And if movies about peeping toms have taught us anything that creepy guy watching you on the screen is probably masturbating angrily too.


Onscreen text tells us 8000 people were spied on in their home last year without their knowledge, and this (purported) fact acts as an introduction to Gerald (Neville Archambault). Balding, bespectacled and profusely sweaty, he buys several tiny cameras and proceeds to install them in an attractive house. Ryan (PJ McCabe) and Claire (Brianne Moncrief) are expecting their first child and looking for a place to call home, and while she’s understandably creeped out by Gerald’s appearance and demeanor the house is perfect for their needs.

Gerald proceeds to watch them on monitors as converse, sleep, make love and fight, but he’s not the only one with a secret. Ryan’s having an affair with his assistant, Hannah (Sarah Baldwin), and as that relationship grows increasingly unstable it begins to threaten their marriage as well as Gerald’s perverse little hobby.

Writer/director Victor Zarcoff‘s debut feature, 13 Cameras (previously known by the far less generic-sounding Slumlord) treads some extremely familiar ground, but he distills the idea to its core elements to deliver a steady rise towards real suspense and thrills.

The first thing the film gets right is its avoidance of the found footage format. Films with similar plots (ie Hangman) are more likely to go that route, but Zarcoff uses it sparingly here as glimpses of what Gerald is focusing on while allowing the film itself to play out like normal. We know the cameras are there and are sufficiently unnerved by their presence, but viewers benefit from not being locked into that frequently distracting format and structure.

Ryan and Claire have troubles, obviously, but while he’s clearly a grade-A prick McCabe keeps his performance grounded and realistic without ever treading into annoying waters. When the couple fights they do so recognizably and avoid becoming simple caricatures. Viewers won’t necessarily come to care about the couple, but we don’t dislike them — something that’s all too common and expected in genre films these days. The side characters benefit from realistic portrayals too helping to create a normal atmosphere before the abnormal behavior destroys it all.

The core strength of the film though is Archambault’s unnerving and repellent turn as the highly unethical landlord. His dialogue is sparse which only adds to the unsettling air about him, and when he does attempt to communicate — including one memorably creepy moment where he touches Claire’s growing belly to divine the sex of the baby — his words carry a blend of shy bluntness as if he’s not designed to interact with the world around him. Archambault’s physical frame comes into play too in that the Gerald’s perceived shlumpiness is actually concealing something of a toned and muscular torso beneath his sweaty shirt. It’s a twist on typically doughy perverts that serves to make him even more menacing.

The film builds to an inevitable clash of characters and manages a third act filled with solid suspense and scares. Pieces fall into place on their way towards an ending that allows room for at least one surprise, and while the conclusion won’t appeal to everyone it finishes on a wonderfully disturbing note.

Zarcoff’s script sticks to the basics and makes no real attempt to strike fresh ground, but 13 Cameras delivers well on that simple, unembellished premise. The film is a straightforward thriller about something inherently creepy, and aside from a few moments of character stupidity the events play out with a realistic and natural vibe that will have you checking the nooks and crannies of your own home for tiny cameras and semen-covered madmen.


Editor’s note: Our review of 13 Cameras originally ran during Fantasia Film Festival 2015, and we’re re-posting it now as the film opens this week in limited release.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.