The premise of 14 Cameras is, admittedly, an inherently creepy one, but “inherently” only gets you so far in a horror movie.
The film is a sequel to 2015’s 13 Cameras (unseen by me), and it features the same villain as its predecessor: the hulking, mostly mute Gerald (Neville Archambault), a voyeuristic landlord who rigs his rental properties full of hidden spy cameras and gets his sick kicks from watching live feeds of unsuspecting victims in the bedrooms, bathrooms, and so on.
Thankfully not (for the most part) a found-footage movie, this apparently bigger-scale follow-up finds Gerald stepping up his game in the psychotic-creep department; these days, he’s not just spying but also live streaming his spy-cam feeds to an appreciative audience of perverts on the dark web, as well as kidnapping and imprisoning female victims in a subterranean bunker outside his home.
Thus, 14 Cameras has as its raison d’etre the very common phobia of being watched – which, with modern technology, might be more justifiable than ever – and, in turn, the fear of what happens when the watcher inevitably decides to take a more hands-on approach to the objects of his voyeuristic desires. In the hands of, say, Brian De Palma (whose films are to kinky voyeurism what Elmer Fudd cartoons are to hunting accidents), this core idea could be a springboard to some unbearably skin-crawling sequences, bound to leave viewers frantically checking every square inch of their homes for concealed surveillance equipment.
“…a voyeuristic landlord who rigs his rental properties full of hidden spy cameras and gets his sick kicks from watching live feeds of unsuspecting victims…”
Unfortunately, however, the filmmakers responsible for 14 Cameras don’t do enough to exploit their innately exploitative setup. Sure, they haven’t neglected to include the obligatory moments of their heavy-breathing antagonist leering at young women undressing on his bank of high-end video monitors. And, yes, things do get genuinely skeevy when Gerald’s victims temporarily leave their accommodations, giving him free reign to sneak in and have his way with their stuff (he’s got a particular – and particularly gross – thing for toothbrushes). But, unsettling as it can be, the film feels as if it’s checking off boxes instead of generating progressively more tension-building sequences or presenting Gerald as a character with any coherent goals or motivations beyond “do something that’s creepy, then do something else that’s creepy”.
A lot of 14 Cameras‘ shortcomings can be at least partially attributed to screenwriter Victor Zarcoff, who both wrote and directed the previous film. This one is largely plotless, and the script fails to develop any memorable or sympathetic characters for the audience to root for – neither in the vacationing upper-middle-class family that rents Gerald’s camera-laden home through an Airbnb-like website, nor in the pair of kidnapping victims (Brianne Moncrief and Chelsea Edmundson) held prisoner in his bunker.
That leaves Gerald himself to carry the movie, and while Archambault’s performance is head-and-shoulders above those of his co-stars, he’s forced to spend far too much of his screen time either stumbling around and grunting incoherently or staring slack-jawed into monitors or camera lenses. This just isn’t a unique or interesting enough heavy to build a horror franchise around; he’s simply a perfunctorily lurching, slovenly brute, a collection of worn-out tropes rather than a fully realized character. It might be that, by making Gerald so essentially faceless and refusing to explain what drives him, Zarcoff is trying to impart the frightening notion that there are lots of people out there who harbor his same perversions, but the attempt falls largely flat because he looks and acts so obviously like a common horror-movie villain.
“…keeping the nudity and gore limited, leaving the sickest implications to viewers’ imaginations…”
Co-directors Seth Fuller and Scott Hussion, making their feature debut, at least manage to orchestrate a handful of well-executed jump scares, and, ironically, when the film mostly drops its surveillance-camera device in the third act, the ensuing stalk-and-chase mayhem makes for some of its best-handled and most compelling moments of suspense. Fuller’s cinematography isn’t half-bad, either, providing some needed visual interest by juxtaposing glitchy, grainy spy-cam footage with the sleeker, more traditionally cinematic look favored by the rest of the film. On top of that, the directors show a surprising amount of restraint considering how tailor-made for gratuitous T&A and violence the movie’s premise is, keeping the nudity and gore limited and mostly leaving the sickest implications of the story to viewers’ imaginations – for a film that so breathlessly warns of the dangers of taking a shower, you at least won’t feel like you need one as soon as it’s over.
It probably won’t spoil much to note that 14 Cameras concludes with an obligatory setup for further sequels, and that’s just so – maybe, with 15 Cameras at their disposal, the filmmakers will find a way to fully deliver on this franchise’s potent, but, as yet, under-served concept.
14 Cameras (2018) Directed by Seth Fuller and Scott Hussion. Written by Victor Zarcoff. Starring Neville Archambault, Amber Midthunder, Brianne Moncrief, Chelsea Edmundson, John-Paul Howard, Hank Rogerson, Gavin White, Brytnee Ratledge, Lora Martinez-Cunningham.
5 out of 10