The 13th House is a 50-minute digital feature, part of the same Australian Film Commission initiative that produced Preservation and The Forest.Directed by Shane McNeil, who’s previously made videos for Mark of Cain, The 13th House is a Kafkaesque thriller set in a near-future corporate office tower. Mark (Damon Gameau) is wasting his potential in a soulless travel agency on the 12th floor. He is summoned one level higher by “Sir” (Shaun Micallef) and assigned a series of tasks. Successful completion will be rewarded with a promotion, but a dozen other men are vying for the same vacancy on the mysterious 13th floor.
There’s a clever astrological theme running through the film (“when Mars is in the seventh house...”). What The 13th House has to say about conformity and ruthless competition in modern business practice is a lot less startling. McNeil deliberately encouraged a clash of acting styles, so Gameau and other cast members deliver their portentous dialogue with sometimes alarming overemphasis and Micallef cocks his head and speaks like a robot.More successful is McNeil’s inventive use of his small budget to create a surrealistic atmosphere and disconcerting mood. He employs some interesting framing and visual tricks, like using the omnipresent surveillance monitors to advance the story. In spite of its intriguing design, The 13th House failed to engage me on an emotional or intellectual level.