Written by: Beth Karen
Business may be booming for surveillance and security companies, but that hasn’t necessarily made the world a safer place. The increasing prevalence of surveillance cameras means we’re always being watched – but by whom? Everyday, cameras record our daily comings and goings without us knowing. Their omnipresent eyes record elements of both our public and private lives, preserving digital footage that may never be deleted.
A new film called 13 Cameras exploits this side of surveillance technology, breaking the lid off of a proverbial Pandora’s Box of paranoia. The first feature film from Victor Zarcoff, who wrote as well as directed, 13 Cameras seizes upon many contemporary fears surrounding a loss of privacy in the post-Edward Snowden era.
The opening shot – countless monitors with live feeds from real homes – sets the voyeuristic tone immediately. One look at Gerald the landlord, played by Neville Archambault, and audiences know what they’re in for. We first see him purchasing hidden cameras from an overly helpful salesperson. His character isn’t subtle. Gerald rarely speaks, and his interactions with the other characters are halting, awkward. It’s clear from the beginning that something is not right.
A pair of young newlyweds named Ryan and Claire, played by PJ McCabe and Brianne Moncrief, have just moved across the country to rent an apartment from no-good Gerald. Already their marriage is on the rocks; Claire is pregnant and Ryan has chosen to channel his neuroses into an extra-marital affair (with an attractive blonde named Hannah, played by Sarah Baldwin). As Gerald hovers and heavy-breathes his way around the apartment complex, we realize that he has installed the security cameras in Ryan and Claire’s unit in order to spy on them. Converging around the themes of privacy and voyeurism, Ryan’s nefarious sneaking and Gerald’s peeping Tom perversions set the stage for an extremely uncomfortable hour and a half.
The film attempts to draw the viewer in by strategically utilizing surveillance footage and Gerald’s disgusting dark room as reference points, but fails to involve us more deeply in the characters lives. Ryan and Claire consistently make casual mistakes and spend most of the movie ignorant of the fact that their lives are on full display. Yet perhaps this mirrors real life attitudes of cameras and surveillance: we always just assume that everything is fine and trust blindly in the notion that everything bad will always happen to somebody else.
13 Cameras is a truly ominous thriller with real-world implications. The film is effective in mirroring the audience’s real life paranoia about increased surveillance in communities around the country. As police and cities install cameras and other monitoring equipment in neighborhoods nationwide citizens and residents have raised concerns about privacy and the abuse of the technology as seen in the film. It’s important to know, even when one is using this type of surveillance to feel safer in their own home, who has access and how to access the feeds, so as to avoid malicious attempts at privacy and safety. According to this website, home surveillance cameras are the top digital tool for hackers to access. Despite going to great lengths to protect himself from the watchful eyes of his wife, Ryan’s misdeeds are seen by Gerald, an unknown and very unstable third party.
On the whole, 13 Cameras is not a perfect movie. However it’s message comes across loud and clear: avoid the false security granted by technology and never trust naively in its promises. Those who are in control of our privacy have unprecedented access to our lives and the damage this can cause can be irreversible. 13 Cameras is in festivals now, more information about the film can be found on the movie’s Facebook page.