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)

Unfriended

The cinematic equivalent of a workplace training video, Unfriended forces viewers to stare at one character’s screen interface, complete with Skype notifications and a moving mouse. Exhilarating stuff, eh?

At a budget of $1 million (spent on what, champagne and caviar craft services?) the 16-day production schedule drew a big box office gross — but we’d mostly sooner ctrl-alt-delete it from memory.

The tale unfurls via, er…laptop POV…that of bland high schooler Blaire (played by ex-pageant queen, Shelley Hennig) and concerns the bullying and subsequent online shaming of one Laura Barns, who then commits suicide. On the one-year anniversary of Barns’ death, her friends yak over Skype.

The group notices an uninvited user, billie227, and thereafter, that lewd photos of them are being updated to their Facebook pages (this was back when this young demographic actually used the social media site  — they’ve since left it in droves. Still, kudos to Blumhouse/Bazelevs co-producers for using actual websites rather than made-up ones…hence we get actual Google searches. Yay).

The new chatter is an anonymous intruder who claims to be Laura Barns’ restless spirit. He/she forces the other kids to play a game, Never Have I Ever, wherein they incriminate one another. This is similar to Panic Button, a British reality TV- and social media-based horror where the tormenter gets victims to turn on one another.

It’s this latter element that makes Unfriended fall apart.

One backstabbing Never Have I Ever revelation would’ve packed more of a dramatic punch than a series of them, especially when none of the characters is in any way developed. Yes, characters are seldom developed in horror films…but for a flick that is exclusively based on conversation, that’s no excuse here.

And as you can see from the screen shot above….a whole movie of this? In small doses, perhaps, a short film, most definitely…but the Brady Bunch / Hollywood Squares visual set-up begins to wear thin pretty quick.

As aficionados of weird horror movie weapons (see our book, Death by Umbrella) Unfriended features one pretty neat demise we shan’t spoil here, as well as 1-2 genuine scares. That’s not really enough to justify Unfriended: Game Night, its sequel.

So, is it better to deftly execute something that’s been done to death, or to break new creative ground and mostly fail? See for yourself.

**1/2 (out of 5)