At long last! An on-the-sly horror flick loaded with senseless gore that delivers its twisted ending like an axe to the head.
The location: an isolated 1930s military academy in the middle of nowhere with woodlands for miles in every direction. The time: now, but the school has been abandoned for reasons unknown. The victims: a garage band that has managed to stay together for six years decides to cut their third album as far away from the recording studio as possible, taking refuge in the aforementioned abandoned school. Unfortunately for them but happily for us, it’s not the album getting cut tonight…
Any fool with a camcorder can run around a construction site in the middle of the night wearing sheets and squirting ketchup everywhere and call it an independent horror film. 13 Seconds is a film very aware of this and uses that knowledge to sneak up on you. Unfortunately, it IS shot completely on video (which immediately draws groans from everyone except fans of late night Cinemax movies), but in spite of that, each scene seems to be building toward something that you can?t help but watch. Like slowing down to stare at a traffic accident, you have to look because you secretly hope that you’ll see something you weren’t supposed to: a little blood (bonus!), an actual body part perhaps (double-score!), or (jackpot!) an actual corpse. Hey, it isn’t anyone YOU know, right?
While the film piles on clues to what?s really happening, every scene uses tricks of the trade and borrows from the best to keep viewers spooked: shadows of others slipping past, glowing eyes in the dark, foreshadowing in old paintings, reflections that shouldn?t be there, and mandatory over-actors that turn from sarcastic skeptics into wide-eyed believers at the mere finding of an obscure clue. We even get a s?©ance! (Say, who remembered to bring the witch board to the recording session? Thanks!) All these elements lead into one of two schools of thought: does the filmmaker realize that all this has been done before, or is that the point? Even the soundtrack betrays nothing until the ending.
Writer / director Jeff Thomas is clearly a fan of horror, and he also demonstrates a knowledge of what does and doesn’t work. The trick to getting it all to work has been in the editing, because with all the scenes that were shot, cutting them just right to maximize the ??spook factor? is an art. Too quick or too long and the scene becomes pointless or boring, but the right mix keeps weak or even cheesy scenes clicking along happily right along with the best. Of course, the director wouldn’t ask his actors to do anything that he wouldn’t do himself; he’s right there with the cast taking his lumps and getting splattered, too.
When making horror on a shoestring, it?s essential to know where to spend the budget to make the film work. The Chiodo Brothers knew where to put their dollars for Killer Klowns from Outer Space, ensuring their monsters were horrific even when the rest of the production couldn’t afford to be. Similarly, Jeff Thomas knows that a bad ending can destroy a good film and that a clever ending can put a budget film over the top. Here?s hoping a lot of people get to see 13 Seconds and that Hollywood comes knocking with a bigger budget soon so Thomas can knock one out of the cemetery and really wake the dead.
(a two and a half skull recommendation out of four)