J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

13 Cameras: When We Pretended to Care About Privacy

These days, it is not just the Obama administration and the NSA who might be spying on you. There are constant reports of landlords installing spy cameras. Renters do have a legal expectation of privacy, but they often have to find the offending devices themselves to enforce it. However, absolutely nobody in their right minds should stick around long enough for this lessor to escalate his perviness in Victor Zarcoff’s 13 Cameras (a.k.a. Slumlord, trailer here), which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

Claire is mega-pregnant and her somewhat younger husband Ryan is kind of okay with it. Since they are starting a new life on the West Coast, they need a new home. The house creepy Gerald is renting out looks perfect. It has brand new appliances and a pool in the back. Yet in all honesty, his foul smell and anti-social demeanor really should have scared them off. The suspiciously locked “owner’s closet” also should set off warning bells. Of course, that is no closet, it is the doorway to the soon-to-be sound-proofed basement.

Thanks to his spy cameras, Gerald quite enjoys watching Claire shower and Ryan secretly hook-up with his assistant Hannah. He will lead her on, before breaking it off. Tragically, her resulting Fatal Attraction behavior makes her the perfect candidate for Gerald’s first abduction. Everyone is too relieved to be done with her to ask questions.

Frankly, Ryan is the sort of sniveling man-child that makes real men hate the rest of their gender. Making the dude-lead somewhat unsympathetic is a refreshingly gutsy call, but he is just odious to a ridiculous extreme. It is impossible to understand what an attractive woman like Claire or Hannah would see in such a petulant, rodent-like jerkheel.

Unfortunately, the credibility issues extend to a seemingly universal lack of intuition on everyone’s part. It is also hard to figure how several able-bodied adults in their late twenties could fail to overwhelm the wheezing Gerald if they would just stick together. Still, in all fairness, Neville Archambault is creepy as all get-out as the sinister landlord. Brianne Moncrief’s Claire is believably agitated as Claire, but she and PJ McCabe never develop any convincing chemistry.

A year ago, 13 Cameras had some attention on the genre festival circuit, but it seems like it is hitting theaters well after its potential moment has passed. If people really cared about surveillance and privacy, they would have embraced Rand Paul’s presidential bid, because he was the only candidate who would have seriously curtailed current practices—Obama being exhibit A of the “it’s okay when I’m in charge” phenomenon. Without claims to zeitgeisty relevancy, 13 Cameras just feels icky without a purpose. It is also one of those horror movies that end on a real downer note, so don’t expect any catharsis. Not recommended, 13 Cameras opens tomorrow (4/15) in LA, at the Laemmle Music Hall.