Tag Archives: PJ McCabe

Good Bones

15 Cameras

by Hope Madden

There have been a lot of movies that tread the same water as 15 Cameras: true crime, new homes, unannounced cameras, creepy guys, basements – among them, Victor Zarcoff’s 2015 thriller 13 Cameras.

I didn’t hold out a lot of hope for this one, honestly, but director Danny Madden (no relation), working from a fine script by PJ McCabe (co-star of 13 Cameras and writer of the criminally underseen The Beta Test), layers themes and ideas to develop a rich picture of villainy.

There’s a little hitch to the starter home recently purchased by Sky (Angela Wong Carbone) and Cam (The Wolf of Snow Hollow’s Will Madden, also no relation to me, but he is the director’s brother). They got the duplex pretty cheap, but that’s because the former owner is the famous Slumlord from a popular true crime show (full of footage from 13 Cameras), who’d wired all his homes up with many cameras, watched victims to get their habits down, then kidnapped and killed at will.

Sky can’t get enough of the show. She binges it, finishes it, and binges it again. It’s a huge turnoff for her ignored husband, and more than a little creepy to her sister Carolyn (Hilty Bowen), who’s crashing while she tries to get a restraining order against her ex.

And there you have it: one location (duplex), a handful of characters (those mentioned plus two tenants), and a found footage/true crime sensibility. Efficient, logical, but never boring and though inevitable, rarely truly predictable.

The slyest thing about 15 Cameras is the way it shows the distance between nice guy, abusive boyfriend and all out monster in inches. By keeping us with Cam’s perspective, that continuum takes on an even more powerful feel.

Will Madden does a fine job of developing an uncomfortable, believable arc for Cam. Likewise, Carbone allows her character enough space to be occasionally unlikeable, while often quite tender.

Indeed, all the performances have texture and depth, even those that might have been considered throwaways in other horror flicks. (Shout out to a very brief but memorable turn from Jim Cummings.) And the storyteller in Danny Madden knows how this should play out.

There’s nothing groundbreaking about 15 Cameras, but what it does, it does well.

Friend Request

The Beta Test

by Hope Madden

If Eyes Wide Shut had been a brutal commentary on the film industry and Tom Cruise had been an unsympathetic, insecure, entitled white man…the point is, The Beta Test is a wild, insanely tense satire.

Co-writers/co-directors/co-stars Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe invite you into a world populated by people who miss the days before Harvey Weinstein’s ousting. The two play Jordan and PJ, respectively—Hollywood agents with no real purpose, no real value, a lot of spin, a lot of anxiety, and a chip on their collective shoulders about the stuff they can no longer get away with.

Then Jordan finds a purple invitation in his mailbox and the mystery begins.

Whether or not Jim Cummings has range as an actor is yet to be seen, but as the awkward, barely recovering alcoholic on the verge of a nervous breakdown, he is perfect. His performance here never broaches the level of vulnerable beauty he showcased in Thunder Road, and even the self-centered ineptitude of his werewolf hunting sheriff in The Wolf of Snow Hollow feels wholesome when compared to Jordan.

But somehow Cummings creates moments where you almost root for this guy. It’s a deceptively layered performance at the center of a biting piece of social commentary.

Cummings is not alone. McCabe works well as Jordan’s far more likable (thought probably no more genuine) bestie/worstie. Jacqueline Doke, playing an office assistant who most closely resembles a normal human, injects scenes with a grounding perspective that only makes Cummings’s anxious antics funnier.

Virginia Newcomb —so spot-on as the disbelieving spouse in 2019’s underseen treasure The Death of Dick Long — is once again excellent in the role of a partner who just cannot believe the behavior of the man she loves. Her role is a bit underwritten, unfortunately, but she and Cummings play off each other well.

Outrage roils beneath the surface of this film so loudly that it almost drowns out the actual plot, which is fine. The mystery itself, convoluted as it is, mainly allows Cummings and McCabe opportunities for inspired, seethingly comical hijinks.