13 Cameras

Those familiar with the Netflix doc Voyeur, where noted New York Times journalist and author Gay Talese interviews the perv / cheap motel owner from which the film’s title is derived, will appreciate (if that’s the word) art imitating life in 13 Cameras.

Directed by Victor Zarcoff, this one, featuring a sleazy building super who isn’t so super (zing) spying on tenants with spy cams numbering 13, is a critical darling and a public dud, the gulf between the two sentiments somewhat surprising.

For starters, it’s got disquieting atmosphere to spare, and unlike most found footage (broadly speaking) flicks, it actually plays up the natural discomfort derived from odd camera angles and shower / bedroom vantage points, making the viewer more than complicit in the illicit.

Like Don’t Answer the Phone! 13 Cameras is also driven by a superb performance in the lead, Neville Archambault as Gerald the landlord, one of the most uniquely disturbing modern horror antagonists to come down the pike since David Howard Thornton utterly embodied the sicko Art the Clown in Terrifier. Archambault’s orangutan musculature, determined gait and sauna sweating visage is on-point, though viewers might take umbrage with any tenant willing to live in any of his residential properties. That said, his smell, as well as creepy appearance (and not exactly matinee idol looks) is referenced early on. Besides, that’s something that can be overlooked in a low vacancy rate environment!

But 13 Cameras is more than a one-man show.

Zarcoff wisely sets up a scenario of Gerald’s victims being newlyweds, expecting, and experiencing a disintegrating marriage, the male party with more than a wandering eye, and a co-worker introduced into the marital bedroom.

This means that Gerald’s voyeur-ing (if that’s a word) and front-row seat is actually interesting beyond the merely prurient. It’s hardly Ibsen, but the portrayal of a marriage headed southward, rings true.

13 Cameras is thoroughly underrated, and outside a few hiccups involving the investigating authorities, is a worthy little film.

FYI, there’s also a sequel, in keeping with Ocean’s Eleven sequel naming convention. Yeah, you got it.

***1/2 (out of 5)

Beneath

Not to be confused with What Lies Beneath, the Zemeckis-directed supernatural horror starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer, Beneath is a killer catfish movie (which also explores what lies beneath, or as the tagline says the terror that “lies just below the surface.”) But is it a killer, comma, catfish movie?

Who knows? It’s not exactly a large pool to draw from. Catfish is pretty sui generis stuff.

A bunch of high school seniors gather for one last blowout before college, as surefire a way to bring about their sudden demise as a cop with 2 weeks to go before his retirement contemplating a seaside vacation before he’s filled full of lead.

Despite warnings from a crotchedy old man (Mark Margolis, the human IED from Breaking Bad, spoiler alert) the teens in Beneath venture forth, as this is a horror movie and to do otherwise would bring the proceedings to a grinding halt. Soon, the catfish, a creature unbeatable when paired with paprikash and dill and served straight out of the Danube in Budapest, begins to fairly convincingly terrorize the boaters, one member of whom receives a fatal bite.

Director Larry Fessenden (Wendigo) keeps things chugging along and as the vessel begins to take on water, the surviving crew members (including bickering siblings) resort to justifying why they should not be sacrificed to the beast and thrown overboard to save the greater good. That differentiates it somewhat from its natural horror brethren.

Fessenden has said that boogey men don’t have backstories (or really need them), and unlike other killer fish movies like the iconic Piranha, Beneath contains no “save the whales” messaging or politicians hosting business-as-usual regattas when swimmers start disappearing from their beaches.

Unfairly maligned, this one is actually quite well shot with an indie sensibility and some choice lines coming at the expense of one member of the party, a wannabe director.

*** (out of 5)