At one time, the concept of a technological home invasion would have felt innovative, but does “15 Cameras” make the retread feel fresh?
15 Cameras landed on digital in October 2023. Read on to find out if you should rent, stream, or skip it.
Begun by the film 13 Cameras in 2015, followed in 2018 with the regrettable 14 Cameras (faulted for writing from the director and author of these first two films, Victor Zarcoff), we now arrive this year at 15 Cameras from director Danny Madden and writer PJ McCabe.
Attempting to cash in on the craze of voyeurism, 15 Cameras begins with a couple, Cam (Will Madden of one of my favorite films, Mean Spirited) and Sky (Angela Wong Carbone), making out over a true crime show about, naturally, a landlord that monitors and kills his tenants.
What could have been a lighthearted exchange gets nasty and blame-driven over a woman glancing at the screen while her partner is doing what he pleases.
This exchange already sets these characters up as distrustful and unrelatable. As Cam is insulted by Sky’s seeming indifference to his advances, he excuses himself to bed, revealing that the videos they were watching were of the titled “Slumlord,” aka Gerald, the now presumed deceased landlord, now dubbed “The Slumlord” from his previous crimes.
A visit from Sky’s sister Carolyn (Hilty Bowen) reveals the duplex was a steal for the couple, and they are waiting to rent out the lower half to tenants, luckily for Carolyn, who needs a place to stay.
While discussing renovations, which Cam has insisted on doing himself, the topic of price arises. The pause here is heavy. Cam reveals it is one of the properties owned by the infamous Slumlord, but so far, no cameras have been found. This, of course, leads the group to an hour watching, in various emotional states, an episode of “The Slumlord Tapes.”
The show discusses how the Slumlord observed, putting progressively smaller cameras in more intricate places, including the shower and toilet.
Sky is engrossed, while Carolyn is disgusted and excuses herself for an unironic shower.
After Cam has his fill, he excuses himself to the other unit to do maintenance, where he makes a not-so-startling discovery when he leans too strongly into the drywall: a hidden door leading into the walls. As he chooses to jump into the small room inside, he doesn’t initially find much, but Cam soon finds a monitor and equipment under a tarp.
Surprisingly, the setup works, and Cam sees the image of his sister-in-law undressing in the bathroom. Initially leaning in, seemingly enjoying the show, Cam reluctantly switches off the equipment and returns for dinner.
Acting neurotic and ignoring the girls’ conversation, he is suddenly snapped out of his trance by the question, “What do you like looking at?” Just as Cam is about to choke out an answer, the group is startled by a silhouette behind the patio doors. Frightened, they briefly investigate outside but find no intruder.
As the couple prepares for bed, Cam comes close again to reveal what he found, but another Slumlord statistic stops him, and he continues about the house the next day, now intensely aware of how visible he is. While the girls talk and type away on their laptops, Cam excuses himself to do some errands, but the moment he leaves the house, you can see his mind shift back toward the cameras.
Something’s got to give.
The film uses the couple to paint an unattractive stereotype of both men and women.
While I suppose the awe Cam is in when he views the slightest hint of a woman’s skin might have been intended to be funny and outrageous, his scouting of potential tenants until he finds a suitable pair of young women, Wren (Shirley Chen) and Amber (Hannah McKechnie), makes his attempts more perverted than playful.
Similarly, while trying to create the perfect secret sex tape, he finds out that his angles aren’t as flattering as he thought they’d be and cringes at his behavior, as did I.
As the narrative bends, we see Madden’s performance turn to that of a creepy, desperate, pathetic liar as though men are slaves to their urges alone (sending an unsolicited dick pic, for instance), and Carbone’s into a naïve, defensive yet paranoid participant, as though women are hyperaware but also oblivious. The line, “Girls are just so safe,” being spoken in the same breath as he gropes his wife’s breasts, didn’t do anything to help my own trust issues.
I don’t fault the performers, as their characters came through in the most unlikable human way, but that is the writing, predestining these two to a both mundane and irritating game of peeping tom.
The heavy-handed messaging, like Carolyn doing the “I’m watching you” gesture, immediately taking a shower after the show said the bathrooms were wired, and the potentially ironic but convenient use of the name “Cam” raises questions for me if the voyeur angle was being pushed too clumsily and left no room for innuendo, suspense, or surprises.
Even a potentially interesting side story going on involving the presumed dead slumlord can’t resurrect the central plot.
The camera work is clean enough, using somewhat interesting angles and closeups and miniature cameras around the house to mix up perspectives and give you an idea of who the audience and the spectators are.
The music is quite strange, from a montage of classically scored handshakes to a French number played over the creepy sessions watching the cameras.
Production doesn’t do much to spruce up this potentially stunning property that remains a beige block storing an equally interesting married couple, and there’s not much delivered in the way of tension or scares, even in a moment where you feel you should be on edge, or watching something you shouldn’t be.