13 Seconds (2004)
Written & Directed by Jeff Thomas
Let me start off by being upfront and honest. I'm not much of a fan of today's microbudget horror movies. I generally do not derive any enjoyment from watching what mostly amounts to somebody's home movie masquerading as a feature film. I guess I've endured one too many no-budget horror movies that clearly look like they were shot on video, sport audio that sounds like it was filtered through an old Mr. Microphone, appear to have been edited on a VCR, and star the non-actor friends of the filmmaker. I know everybody has to start somewhere, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't think there was a glut on the market of microbudget films that play more like an amateur student film than an actual motion picture and there seems to be too many people more interested in cheerleading these films than providing honest criticism. I know making movies for almost zero budget is virtually impossible work, especially if it's a genre film, but I still expect some level of competency and professionalism, and that's something that is sorely lacking in most of these productions.
That said, 13 Seconds is a welcome breath of fresh air. A less than perfect film to be sure, writer-director Jeff Thomas has still crafted a microbudget horror movie with more ambition and more intelligence than the usual microbudget horror flick, which usually focuses on slashers, vampires, zombies, and/or evil lesbians of some sort. 13 Seconds could best be described as a hybrid of the traditional haunted house movie, Jacob's Ladder, and a morality play. Thomas has wisely chosen to try and create a thoughtful horror film than just another splatterfest, not that the film is lacking in that department either.
13 Seconds deals with a struggling rock band called Night Gallery, clearly an homage to the 1970's TV anthology series that this film somewhat mimics in its macacbre tone, who are looking for a location where they can record their new album. They make the fatal error of choosing a seemingly abandoned house out in the middle of the woods that may or may not be possessed by something evil. When weird things begin happening, the gang tries to figure out if someone's playing a prank on them or if there really is something truly sinister behind it all. Amongst the strange goings-on include weird voices, glowing eyes staring at them from the darkness, and paintings of the wall that show terrible things to come. Soon, the band members are being picked off one by one and the remaining ones begin turning on each other.
It's actually kind of hard to review a movie like this because to talk about any real specifics would be to give too much away. The film works best as a visceral experience; more creepy then flat out scary, but there is definately a jolt or two that might make you jump.
The unsung heroes of the production are the FX guys, who have crafted make-up effects more gruesome and chilling than that of many productions with signifigantly higher budgets. My personal favorite stuff involved the glowing eyes watching them from the darkness, the demon kid that looked like something of a cross between Nosferatu and the mutant baby from It's Alive, and some moments clearly inspired by the scene in Nightmare on Elm Street where Freddy Krueger was pushing out through the wall as if it was rubber. All of these effects and many others in the film are extremely well done. However, I can't help but to think that the axe wielding executioners were a tad on the cheesy side if only because their costumes looked a bit too homemade. Still, there's some genuinely unsettling visuals on display here.
As I said, there are still quite a few flaws. At times the score nearly drowns out the actors and the movie could have used some tightening as there are some lulls in the middle part of the film.
Of all of the film's flaws, 13 Seconds does have one major flaw that is impossible to ignore. The acting in this film is all over the map; decent at times, only passable at others, and far too often it is just downright awful. As I said in the opening paragraph, way too many microbudget productions star the non-actor friends of the filmmaker. I don't know if any of the actors in this film fall into that category or if this was just the best Thomas could get, but the acting is definately the achilles heel of the movie. The actors generally do a much better job with facial expressions and reaction shots than with delivering actual lines of dialogue and fortunately for Thomas, much of the movie only requires just that.
For a microbudget movie made by a first-time filmmaker, Jeff Thomas has a lot to be proud of because he's crafted one of the best I've seen in a long time. Despite numerous flaws that includes some truly atrocious acting, 13 Seconds is worth a look because it does have a worthwhile story with some seriously unnerving visuals and a nifty twist ending that explains the film's title. I have a sneaking suspicion that Jeff Thomas is a name we're going to be seeing and hearing good things from in the near future.
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