Directed by Daniel Stamm
Distributed by Entertainment One
Mild-mannered Elliot (Webber) has been dealt one seriously shitty hand in life. Forced by circumstance to provide for his pregnant fiancée (Wesley), mentally disabled brother (Graye) and racist, curmudgeonly father (Bower), it seems that his troubles will see no end when he is suddenly fired from his mediocre job as a salesman.
Coming along at just the right moment is the cheery voice of a mysterious benefactor at the other end of a mobile phone, offering Elliot the chance to play in a big money game show where each task offered to him will instantly deliver escalating cash prizes upon completion. He can choose to quit at any time if the tasks become too much, but in doing so he will forfeit any and all money earned in his progress through the 13 activities that form the game.
What starts off with $1,000 for swatting a fly, and an even larger number for eating it, quickly escalates beyond the innocent realm of making children cry and into church burning, corpse desecration, back-street limb amputation and far, far worse. As his activities draw the eye of the local police force, Elliot finds himself plunging head first into an out-of-control nightmare from which there may simply be no quitting.
A remake of the 2006 Thai film 13: Beloved (also known as 13: Game of Death), 13 Sins is a highly entertaining and very well made horror/thriller. Mark Webber is excellent in the lead as the downtrodden Elliot, a meek man put through the wringer and then turned around and shoved right back through again, all the while attempting to maintain a veneer of normality while making wedding arrangements and keeping ahead of the law. As he works his way through the tasks, Elliot’s confidence awakens, culminating in a satisfying confrontation with an old school bully. He isn’t so arrogant as to embrace it completely, however, so when things go much too far, he is more than willing to forfeit everything in order to maintain his humanity. If only it were that simple…
Appearing as part of a sub-plot involving the origins and activities of the mysterious Game of 13 is the ever-dependable Pruitt Taylor Vince as Vogler, a man who has compiled years of research on the game and its objectives, but who is still none the wiser regarding exactly who, or what, is behind it. Spending time alongside him both in this plot and on the periphery of the main action is Ron Perlman as police detective Chilcoat, whose search for Elliot brings him straight into the game’s arena. Perlman seems almost on auto-pilot, here – his character given little depth or weight until specifically called for by the finale. It isn’t particularly negative, however, as Ron Perlman on auto-pilot is most certainly better than no Ron Perlman at all, right?
Credulity is routinely stretched and tugged at throughout 13 Sins, but it’s rarely an issue given the fast, punchy pace of the flick and its generally satisfying story. There are a few nice twists to be had, a smattering of tragedy and some deliciously dark humour backed up by the occasional shocking display of violence and gore. The Last Exorcism director Daniel Stamm is at the helm here, and his work feels extremely confident with well-handled tension and a crafty mean streak. The opening scene, also, is just brilliant and provides an instant hook for the rest of the film.
It isn’t big and showy, but 13 Sins is quite obviously a film made with gusto by all involved. Despite a few tonal missteps and an ending that doesn’t quite feel completely satisfying (not to mention the simple frustration of just not knowing enough about the machinations behind the game – despite the fact that it’s given an entire sub-plot!), it’s a cracking little understated shocker and one game that you’ll certainly want to get involved in.
Entertainment One’s UK DVD release of 13 Sins comes with a circa 10 minutes long Behind the Scenes segment as the only extra. It offers a nice few minutes with the cast and crew and contains a few laughs, even if it does feel more like fluff than anything particularly insightful.
3 1/2 out of 5
1 out of 5