13 Sins. 2014. Dir. Daniel Stamm. Screenplay by David Birke & Stamm; based on the original source material 13: Game of Death by Chookiat Sakveerakul & Eakasit Thairatana.
Starring Mark Webber, Devon Graye, Tom Bower, Rutina Wesley, Ron Perlman, and Pruitt Taylor Vince. Entertainment One.
Rated R. 93 minutes.
The beginning of 13 Sins signifies an entertaining, at times shocking, and wild rollercoaster is about to kick in gear. I love when, right from the get go, a film tells you it’s both appropriate to laugh your guts out, and also be creeped out or horrified – whatever the moment calls for.
We open with an older man who is being introduced at some sort of reception. He proceeds to tell some filthy jokes, and then cuts a woman’s finger off in front of the entire crowd. Everyone panics. People flee to the doors, screaming and trampling like cattle. As he reaches into his pocket while a police officer holds him at gunpoint, he’s shot. However, what he reached for was a cellphone. It promptly goes off with a ringtone of Julius Fučík’s “Thunder and Blazes – Entry of the Gladiators”.
Cut to Elliot (Webber) whose life is in shambles. He is about to get married, he already takes care of his disabled brother Michael (Graye), and his elderly, hateful father (Bower) is on the verge of needing to move in with him. Not to mention he is suddenly fired from his job for “lacking balls”, essentially. Then, out of the cold blue, Elliot receives a phone call; his phone goes off with Fučík’s orchestral arrangement, which confuses him. This sets off a contest, starting with the harmless killing and eating of a fly for thousands of dollars, leading him into the dark heart of man. The tasks, 13 to be exact, of the contest go from making a child cry, to dragging a dead corpse into a diner for a cup of coffee, and worse.
Love the plot. Although this is based on 13 Beloved, I like this one better. The horror in this one gets pretty wild. I’ve seen a lot of gore and the like, but there’s something about the thrills in this movie that really work well. Elliot is basically a man in the worst position of life; he faces a grim future of looking after a father he doesn’t exactly get along with, as well as watching his younger disabled brother get sent back to a snake-pit institution where he’ll likely never get any real help or understanding. There’s something about Elliot, as a character, which speaks to a lot of people. Especially today – the economy isn’t exactly perfect. There’s something about Elliot and his desperate need for money, the need making him do all sorts of crazy things, that makes the things he does even more horrifying. Really great adaptation from the original film.
Webber does a pretty good job with the character of Elliot. He doesn’t immediately just jump into everything; there’s a hesitation to him that feels natural. Though he does dive in after awhile. Around 45 minutes into the film comes a moment where there’s really no turning back whatsoever for Elliot. He is hesitant, however, it doesn’t take a lot at this point. He’s got everything bearing down on him. A meeting with some people from earlier in his life, high school, basically tips him over the edge – that last push. From there, he’s more into the game, and willing to really let go of himself. Webber gave a good performance here, I can’t deny that.
Ron Perlman isn’t in there a whole lot, but fills out that role nicely. As does Tom Bower, who plays the crust old dad to Elliot; I always love this guy, honestly. Devon Graye, as a supporting character, was really awesome. He didn’t make the character of Michael seem ridiculous, as some actors tend to do with portrayals of disabled people; he kept it realistic, and there were times I just really loved his dialogue (especially when he was talking about “making eyes” at some girl from the same institution – great lines and well-delivered!). Everyone in smaller roles, even Pruitt Taylor Vince with his very brief parts, did excellently in rounding out the cast.
What really drives this are the tasks themselves, though. There is a disturbing quality to it all because, as I said, Elliot is sort of hesitant in the beginning, but soon he just immerses himself in this bad ass side of his personality discovered through the sick gameshow. At first it’s sort of just fun and weird. Eventually, it gets a lot darker, and a lot more intensely personal for Elliot. I mean, as time goes by you sort of expect things to get crazier, yes, but it continually surprised me from moment to moment. I don’t often find myself surprised. Particularly when it comes to horror – there are lots of good films, certainly, just not a lot of surprising ones, I find. This was one of those genuinely surprising films at times. Not always, but when it mattered.
Another aspect of the tasks is the social commentary: the people playing this game do increasingly terrible things all for the sake of money. As the tasks get wilder, more dangerous and sadistic, you think of all the things people in our real world do for money. This remake really works because it comes at a relevant time when people in North America still struggle with the shit economy we’ve had on our hands for the past 8 or 9 years (not saying it’s anywhere near being the worst situation – clearly there are worse – but this film is definitely specific to North America & arguably mostly America specifically).
Anyways, it’s a really good bit of commentary for a horror-thriller. Also, once you understand the game has been happening for years and years, it goes wider than a specific point in time – it speaks to those who are economically and financially challenged, for whatever reason, who are often pushed into a position where they’ll do anything at all just to get out of the hole in which they’ve found themselves. This movie definitely has some good stuff to say, aside from being a twisted little horror.
The whole backstory of the game itself was pretty interesting. Pruitt Taylor Vince’s character gives us a bit of exposition on the whole process of the game, how far it reaches, how long it’s been going on, and so on. This, I really enjoyed. You could almost have a bunch of these films if they really wanted; you could move backward in time, back to when the game first originated, et cetera. I found that part really awesome, and unsettling. Very cool addition.
This film, for me, was a definite 4 out of 5 stars. There were pieces I think they could have edited differently, or altogether cut out, which would have fixed the pacing. There are times it teeters too closely to comedy when it should stain within the horror vein; it could still be horror-comedy, but sometimes there is just a bit too much levity than expected. This doesn’t ruin the film. It’s a really great little horror-thriller, which certainly does the job. The finale impressed me hugely. I did expect there would be some sort of twist – I did not, however, expect the twist we were given. Maybe some suspected it – I’m always suspicious of people who say they always guess endings and such – but me, I was taken aback. It didn’t throw me on the floor or anything, but I was shocked for a minute. Real good suspense near the end. Thoroughly enjoyed how the film closed out.
I’d highly suggest this film for anyone looking to watch a nice little horror-thriller. There are some really great moments of horror, lots of tension and suspense, and a couple nice performances. Specifically, Webber does a really nice job with his character.
You won’t be disappointed if you give it a chance. A lot of fun with a few gasps and shocks thrown in for good form.