AUGUST 2, 2016
The best thing I can say about 13 Cameras (formerly Slumlord) is that despite a plot (and new title) that revolves around an insane landlord using, er, 13 cameras to film his tenants to get his rocks off, it's NOT a found footage/POV type movie. We see a few moments from his camera angles, of course, but even though the film rarely leaves the house where all of them are placed, writer/director Victor Zarcoff (making his debut here) avoids the temptation to fit in with so many other indie horror films of the past five years. He shot it like a real movie! The cameras are unmanned so no one ever has to awkwardly film a friend's death or a loved one's private conversation with them so we can follow the plot!
Of course, that'd be more exciting if the plot was more interesting. Zarcoff admirably did things right with his directing, but his script left a lot to be desired, and while a motive is never necessary for my horror movie killers, the character work is SO stripped down that it almost feels like we were perhaps supposed to supply our own. Certain Friday the 13th characters have more going on than anyone in this movie: we have our (jerk) husband Ryan who cheats on his (insecure) wife Claire with his (uh... pretty?) secretary Hannah, all under the watchful eye of their (crazy) landlord. That's pretty much it; I kept hoping there would be some wrinkle to the proceedings, a slick twist that would make up for the generic scenario, but nope. Nothing even justifies how dumb our heroes have to be for the plot to work, which makes it even harder to deal with.
For example, Ryan always has the secretary come to the home he shares with Claire for them to have their rendezvouses. For the life of me I can't understand why anyone would do this - obviously he waits until his wife goes out with friends to have his mistress come over, but Claire is pregnant - she can come home early unexpectedly due to being tired/sick/etc. (believe me, many a night with my own mistress - my Xbox - was 'ruined' during my wife's pregnancy when she'd no longer feel up to the plans she made). We are given no reason to believe Hannah has a spouse of her own, so why don't they just go to her place? Oh, right - because then the landlord couldn't spy on them. Throughout the movie I kept believing that we had to buy into this idiocy because it would turn out that the landlord was creepy but also believed in family values or something and would give Claire evidence of her husband's infidelity (or even less complicated - she merely finds his monitors and presumable recordings and finds out for herself as a result of his surveillance). But no! She finds out because the idiot tells his drinking buddy, who tells his own wife - Claire's best friend.
I also toyed with the idea that maybe the landlord would be the hero of the movie, because for a brief period Hannah gets a bit Glenn Close and starts calling in the middle of the night, stopping by for awkward exchanges with Claire, etc. It'd be kind of fun if she turned it up a notch and the landlord was forced to give away his surveillance game (which we know he uses to pleasure himself - the movie offers a lovely visual of him cleaning up his mess after watching them shower) in order to rescue his tenants from a crazy woman. But again, the movie can't be bothered to do anything that interesting - at some point the landlord kidnaps her and chains her up in the house, soundproofing the walls so that Ryan and Claire can't hear her screaming all day. As for how this works, the landlord tells them that one locked door leads to an owner's closet (is that a thing?), and even though they break it open fairly early on (looking for tools) they don't really investigate the basement that it leads to, seemingly forgetting all about it shortly thereafter. I have a cupboard in my home that I've never used (and never will - we're being forced to move next week due to the owner selling our place, so forgive me if HMAD goes silent for a week or two!) and it kind of bugs me - these folks let an entire FLOOR slip their mind.
And true to form, the film does nothing interesting with the idea that a married couple is oblivious to the fact that the husband's mistress is tied up in their basement. Even when they inevitably discover her, Claire doesn't really freak out - Ryan goes running around with a bat looking for the landlord while the two of them hide in the bathroom, with zero awkwardness to it. At this point I've wondered "Why did they bother?" about far too many of the film's subplots, so (spoilers ahead) I couldn't even care much when it ends with a ton of unanswered questions - the landlord kills Ryan and Hannah and kidnaps Claire, keeping the baby for himself. Zarcoff even doubles down on the dumbness of this by including a scene where two cops look around seven weeks later, acting on the landlord's behalf who apparently called them after they failed to pay rent and have seemingly vanished. Are we to believe that a man who has a full time job (seemingly an important one since he has an assistant), a woman who keeps in touch with her mother frequently, and best friends who get involved in their marital problems would disappear with no one besides their GODDAMN LANDLORD calling the cops about their disappearance? Even ignoring the fact that the landlord is hardly a normal looking guy (he looks like Stacy Keach playing Carl from Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and talks like Billy Bob in Sling Blade) and would likely be looked at with suspicion by the cops (or pretty much anyone who spent more than 30 seconds with him), this is stupid even by horror movie logic. I can meet a movie halfway on shit like this, but Zarcoff is asking me to pick him up from the airport and drive him 1000 miles in the opposite direction.
It doesn't help matters that the heroes... I won't say "deserve to die", because that's harsh, but I certainly didn't care if any of them lived. Ryan has not one redeeming quality to him (even beyond the infidelity, he's just a dick in general, even to the lady he's banging) and Claire doesn't show a lot of backbone in the face of his betrayal - she kicks him out (actually her friend pretty much does) but calls him back almost instantly when she notices a camera, instead of her friend or the cops. As I've said in the past, it's not necessary to love your protagonists - but there should be a point to it. And it certainly shouldn't be a device employed in this kind of movie, where we in the audience should feel creeped out and sympathetic toward the unwitting victims of the voyeurism. Instead I was just kind of feeling sorry for the landlord that he was stuck with these losers.
The movie showed at Screamfest last year under the Slumlord title; I remember reading the description and thinking it would be found footage (plus Hangman - which I DID like - had a fairly similar plot and two of such things in one week would be pushing it) which is why I skipped it, so I'm glad I made the right call. Even if I fell asleep in the theater it wouldn't have been worth being stuck with it - at least at home on this screener I was able to break up the viewing in two chunks. I don't know why they changed the title to something so lame (plus it starts on a collage of *15* camera angles, starting things off on the wrong foot), especially since the only thing the movie really has going for it is the "slumlord" character - it's almost fascinating watching someone so completely unhinged be treated normally by every other character. If only the movie was more about his day to day life than the sods we're forced to watch along with him; I'd probably be down for a Slumlord 2. 14 Cameras? Not so much.
What say you?