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Movie Review: 13 Tzameti

By Mike Everleth ⋅ July 28, 2006

13 Tzameti

13 Tzameti may be the first horror movie that I can recall seeing in which the monsters don’t kill anybody themselves.

Of course, it could be argued whether or not 13 Tzameti is a horror movie at all. I would consider it one, but I could also understand if others categorized it as a bleak drama or a downbeat thriller. However, the middle of the film, the real meat of the entire movie is sheer, unmitigated horror. Ah, but to get to that middle…

This is a difficult film to review because on the one hand, personally, I really wanted to see the film because I knew what the horror was going to be all about. It’s a tense, completely creepy premise that I was hoping was going to scare the crap right out of my ass. And it did. Very much so. I also felt that knowing what horrible things await lends the first half of the film — and I kept my eyes on the clock and it is half — a certain intenseness. It’s almost excruciating knowing how events will unfold for the main character, Sebastien (George Babluani), especially since he doesn’t know himself.

However, the movie’s main premise is not really a “secret” like The Sixth Sense or The Crying Game since all of the film’s PR that I’ve seen is letting us in on the main event. But, do I talk about the film’s main topic and reveal it myself? Because part of me wishes I hadn’t known what the big shock was going to be.

What makes 13 Tzameti particularly creepy is that very little is ever discussed or explained in the film, particularly character motivations, which makes all the events seem so real. Yes, Sebastien is poor and saddled with taking care of the household. So when the opportunity arises for him to make a lot of money, he goes for it even though what he’s getting involved with is obviously illegal since it’s shrouded in so much mystery. But there is very little dialogue in the film and we never learn the exact circumstances of Sebastien’s family and why they are so poor.

Then, when the horrible circumstances in which Sebastien suddenly finds himself are revealed, we don’t know what motivates the men orchestrating the horror or from where they come. Are they gangsters? Or just bored rich dudes? And as for Sebastien’s fellow contestants, why are they there especially since, unlike Sebastien, they seem to know what they are getting themselves into?

Conjuring up a lot of ponderous exposition to answer those above questions would have really weighted the film down. Instead, we feel as we ourselves are Sebastien, knowing very little of our surroundings. Because, really, how much do ever know about the people around us? Instead of manufacturing a bunch of forced interactions, writer/director Gela Babluani lets us simply observe how the other characters act and talk and let us come up with our own interpretations of their behavior. And although the movie is very “filmic,” it comes across almost like a cinema verite documentary, like the work of Frederick Wiseman, with a very real “you are there” feel.

All of which makes 13 Tzameti, oh so much more terrifying.