Day 13 is a middling thriller that takes the basic story of the 1989 Tom Hanks comedy The Burbs and plays it completely straight, adding a large dash of Hitchcock’s Rear Window without any of Hitchcock’s archness. In fact, the movie plays the story so straight that it becomes stiff and wooden, right up to its bizarre climactic effort to transform a classic Twilight Zone episode into a crass, vulgar five minutes of exploitation. At the same time, it manages to fail at failing, never descending so far into sheer incompetence that it becomes interesting on its own. Instead, it’s a technical exercise in making a movie without passion or purpose, in which it seems that nobody is having any fun but everybody is pretty sure the film will make back its money once it ends up in some streaming service’s back catalog next year.
Colton’s obsession grows quickly from taking videos from across the street to falling deeply in love with a girl he has known for, I believe, about 90 minutes across three days. (The movie’s timeline is slippery, and never fully clear.) The movie seems vaguely aware that Colton’s behavior is stalkerish and creepy. “The videos I have aren’t proof of anything, other than that I’m a pervert, a peeping Tom, or something,” Colton says in a rare moment of self-awareness. But the movie does not extend that awareness much beyond lip service. The movie asks us to see Colton as the hero despite it all, though the film gets half credit for deciding in the last couple of minutes that maybe he should have minded his own business. Even so, the message is (literally) that Colton is a “good person” whose real crime is caring too much.
There might have been some grounds for a competent, if uninspired, thriller in the basic setup. But the movie’s low budget, slipshod writing, and dull direction make it more of a slog than it needs to be. The movie pretends to take place in a small town, though it is quite obviously Los Angeles, palm trees and all. Its set piece is the “abandoned” house across the street, supposedly unoccupied for eighteen years and yet pristine save for some obvious set decoration scattered foliage. The story is slow, with too few moments of creepiness or ambiguity to drive the narrative forward. The fact that director Jax Medel puts more than two minutes of credits over a black screen before the film begins shows you where her priorities fall—and they aren’t with the audience. The action of the film doesn’t even begin in earnest until a full hour into the 90-minute movie.
The biggest problem, though, is with Colton. Because the movie is told from his point of view, its success rises and falls based on what the audience thinks of Colton. He is wooden, free from most personality traits, and remarkably unexpressive. Alex MacNicoll, best known from the Netflix series The Society, plays the strong silent type well, but the movie does not play to his strengths, writing Colton as awkward and uncertain where MacNicoll excels at projecting confidence. MacNicoll certainly doesn’t look his age, turning 30 this week, but he’s also not quite a convincing 17. I’d have bought him as a college student, though. For this film to work, Colton needed to be expressive, emotional, and sympathetic. Medel directs MacNicoll like a somewhat sentient Ken doll, and MacNicoll’s mumbling, monotone performance never gives us a reason to care about Colton. A square jaw and nice hair aren’t a substitute for a personality, and the writing does him no favors, omitting personality traits in favor of exposition. A more expressive actor on the order of Brandon Flynn or Anthony Turpel might have offered a more compelling center, though even then only with a rewrite.
As Colton’s love object (interest is too thoughtful a word), Hannelius, from Dog with a Blog and American Vandal, does her best impression of Alyson Hannigan as Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the sloppy writing and meandering direction never make her character more than pastiche.
The “shocking” twist ending is so comically overwrought that I wish Medel had lopped it off entirely. It raises far too many questions about why no one bothered to clue Colton in, when it would have forestalled the entire debacle, and exactly how stupid Magnus is supposed to be. For most of the film’s run, the movie is a minor, mostly naturalistic story of a kid trying to help an abused friend. Pushed to its logical conclusion, it might have worked that way. The pointlessly over-the-top ending comes out of nowhere, undercuts what little success the story actually achieves, and reinforces a deeply sexist message that women are untrustworthy and men would be better off without them. This is a very strange message considering that Medel is a woman and might have been expected to take a different approach. For comparison’s sake, and because I trust that after this few of you will care to watch this movie, I’ll just say that the similarities to “The Howling Man” episode of The Twilight Zone are inescapable, and swapping the gender makes the implications much more unsavory. The Twilight Zone did this story better and faster six decades ago.
Day 13 is available August 4 on most major video on demand platforms, including Amazon and Vimeo. Streaming links will be available here starting August 4.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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