13 Seconds (2004) – By Duane L. Martin

I was contacted not too long ago and asked to review the film 13 Seconds. It sounded cool so I said I would, and soon after the DVD arrived, and as it lay there on my desk…waiting…nay, in fact begging to be pulled from it’s protective shell and thrust into the DVD player so that it could be perused methodically and analytically by my watchful gaze. And yet for weeks it’s sat here on my desk, lost and lonely in a pile of films that needed to get reviewed for this issue. All this time, it’s laid there patiently, but persistently beckoning for me to place it’s vinylite goodness into my DVD tray, and yet I could not, for I still had many films to review, and time was running short. Now, on this final day before the next issue is to be unveiled, I have at last succumbed to it’s call. I have placed it into the gentle caress of my DVD tray and allowed this film, that has been longing so patiently for my attentions, to wash over my eyes in all of it’s horrific glory.

Ok, enough crap. Here’s the review.

13 Seconds is a story about a band that’s decided to record their next album in some old abandoned school. The band doesn’t seem to get along all that well, or at least certain people in it seem to have problems, and in fact, two of the members brought their girlfriends along even though they had agreed not to.

Here’s a basic rundown of the people in this movie:

Davis is the main character, played by the film’s writer and director, Jeff Thomas. He looks and sounds like a young Emilio Estevez, but I didn’t see him packin’ any trash cans or coaching any kids at hockey, so I know it couldn’t have been him. Then there’s the pissy, bald, alcoholic guy and the heroin addict guy. I don’t remember their names, but they were just victims anyway, so it doesn’t really matter. Then there’s the two girlfriends. The hotter one’s name was Talia, and the one with the funky eyebrow stud was named Kara. They’re both pretty much worthless, but at least they don’t spend the whole movie screaming at every little thing. Oh, and then there’s a guy called Shapiro that looks like Rutger Hauer in a stocking cap. He’s the kinda guy that could suck the life out of a party just by walking in the room because he’s so damn dull and unemotional all the time. Anyway, that rounds out the band and the girlfriends, so let’s move on to the two sound engineers, Gage and Sidetrack. Don’t they sound like a couple of streetcorner informants from Starsky and Hutch? Gage is annoying and Sidetrack is a bitch. Apparently bitches live longer than annoying people, and if that truly is the case, then I think I can look forward to a very long life.

Now with everyone introduced, I can move on to the story itself. Basically the band decided to record in an old silent film theater within an old abandoned school just to have a change of scenery while they recorded their new album. Once they got inside and explored around a bit, the heroin addict guy caught up with Davis and they decided to shoot up to celebrate the launch of their new recording sessions. After that, weird stuff started happening, and then people started to die, and it was all happening just like in Davis’ nightmares. The heroin addict guy got folded in half backwards and dragged under his bed. Then the bald alcoholic guy was laying on his bed and suddenly sprouted an extra arm from his chest cavity, which then promptly began choking him, as though that were necessary after the arm had already gone completely through him. Then the next victim was the annoying sound engineer, Gage, who was cracked in the back of the head, strung up by his feet, had his hands spiked to the wall, his gut cut open, and then just to add insult to injury, he was strangled with his own intestines. Those were some of the more creative deaths in the film. The rest were all just kinda regular killings. So let’s move on.

The story in this film is confusing at best and never really makes much sense until the very end, which I won’t spoil here. Suffice it to say that the ending explains not only the title of the film, but it also explains everything that’s been going on. It also explains why the things everyone did in this movie were all so illogical and totally against what normal human reactions would be. I mean, when all the weird stuff started happening, my first reaction would have been to just get the hell out of there and leave the ghosts or whatever they were choking on my dust. The thing is, logic isn’t allowed to rear it’s ugly head in horror films, because if it did, then no one would ever die. Horror films rely upon the stupidity of their characters in order to set up all the various horrific scenes of murder and ghastly gore. Suffice it to say, the people in this movie got set up a lot.

Technically, the film was a double edged sword. Visually, it was beautifully shot and really creative. The whole look and feel of everything really lent itself to the terror that the film trying to invoke. The creature effects were all extremely well done as well, creating a nightmarish freakshow of killers that look like they came straight out of a nightmare. Frankly, I think the director did an awesome job in visually expressing what he was trying to accomplish with this film.

Music and sound are extremely important factors in setting up the mood for any scene. If you’ve ever watched a really scary part in a horror film with the sound turned off, then you know that it’s just not scary when you can’t hear the music building and the creepy background sounds that are designed to make you squirm with anticipation as the monster or killer or whatever is about to pounce on their prey. Well with this film, the music was always used extremely effectively and was always appropriate to the scene it was used in. The sound effects were decent, although some sounded a little canned at times. The real problem was with the voices…

The voices in this film were all dubbed over in post. I don’t know if any of the live voice recordings were used from the time of filming, but if there were, I didn’t catch it. The big problem here isn’t that the voices don’t match the lips, but that the after the fact dubbing made nearly all the acting in this film come off completely flat and unemotional. Everyone sounded like they were reciting lines while sitting in a chair in a nice warm recording studio rather than expressing themselves realistically the way a good recording and mix of the live audio could have captured. This totally detracted from the film, mainly because the voices actually sounded like they were recorded in post. There was no ambience to them at all most of the time and it almost makes you feel like you’re not really listening to them at all. It was a distraction that made the visuals and the whole mood of the film less scary than it could have, or should have been.

Now from the way I’ve been talking, you probably think I hated this movie. Well I didn’t. I hated the characters and I wanted them to all die horrible painful deaths just because they annoyed me, but that’s not a reflection on the movie itself, only the characters. Basically, the film has a good premise and the final scene tidys everything up nicely and explains pretty much everything that’s been going on. It’s one of those movies like Robot Monster where you watch the whole thing, totally confused, and then the final scene clears it all up.

Compared to other indie horror films I’ve seen, this is definitely one of the better ones. It would have been a lot better had it not been for the voice over issues and if there had been at least one character you could have really cared about. In the end though, the creativeness of the camera work, the well done pacing of the editing, and the great set design and creature effects make this a film that’s definitely worth checking out. I look forward to seeing more from this director in the future, as I believe that his work will only get better and better with each film that he does.

You can check out the film’s website to see the trailer and get all kinds of other great information.