Having made his mark directing a couple of found footage horror films, director Daniel Stamm does his best to move over to a more traditional form of story-telling with 13 SINS, a film that while isn’t ground-breakingly original, offers viewers a fun and tense ride.
A remake of the Thailand-shocker “13: GAME OF DEATH“, 13 SINS follows Elliot Brindle (SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD‘s Mark Webb), a man with good intentions but highly down on his luck. His fiance’ is pregnant, his racist father is getting evicted, and when he’s fired for not being cut-throat enough, Elliot is in danger of losing his insurance, meaning that he won’t be able to pay for his mentally-handicapped brother’s care taking, which in turn might mean he moving him into a home. While deep in despair, Elliot gets a mysterious phone call, with a very robotic and cold voice on the other end, offering him a thousand dollars to kill a fly. Jumping on the chance, Elliot obliges, and is soon thrown into a game in which the player must commit “13 sins”, with each one continually becoming more dangerous (and illegal), and turning Elliot’s world upside down.
While a desperate man doing crazy things for money isn’t exactly the most original idea (also out now is the fun as hell CHEAP THRILLS), 13 SINS does what a lot of films that deal with similar territory don’t do: have fun with the premise. It’s hard not to laugh a little, when Elliot is forced to make a little girl cry, by telling her that her parents don’t love her and are going to send her to an orphanage. You can tell how badly he doesn’t want to do things like that, and when quickly driving away, the little girl’s mom throws a garbage can at his car, making Elliot’s unknowing fiance’ curse at the woman, and as a viewer, you have to just sit there, grinning from ear to ear. Like most films dealing with similar plots, you see the character of Elliot slowly begin to revel in the “sins”, enjoying them more and more as the film goes on, making his life much more difficult when a detective (played with a sense calmness by HELLBOY and SONS OF ANARCHY star Ron Perlman) begins to find interest in the case, and begins to look for him. Not so much a cat and mouse angle, but what the detective adds to the film, is somewhat of an exposition to it, filling viewers in on why and how long the game has been going on through the years. While Perlman is as great as he’s ever been (like always, his acting is top-notch), there really isn’t a need for the character, it’s almost as if the filmmakers thought that viewers wouldn’t get the film without having a character tell us why everything is happening.
Like CHEAP THRILLS, 13 SINS does succeed at giving us a protagonist that as a viewer, you WANT to see make it to the end. When all is said and done, the character of Elliot is a genuinely good guy, one who cares deeply about his loved ones, and though he flirts with the idea of being happy hurting people who had hurt him (one scene involving hitting a former bully of his in the face with a chair for no reason is a highlight), you can tell that his family and making sure they’re ok is his main priority, a far cry from a lot of anti-heroes in similar films. It’s the ability to sympathize with him, that brings you in, and makes you want to follow Elliot on his trek to the end of the 13 sins.
The film’s only setback comes from its last three minutes. Stamm does a great job building such brilliant tension, and gets absolutely wonderful performances from his actors, but when the film is explained and shit hits the fan (so to speak), a decision made at the very end, just doesn’t gel with the rest of the film. Aside from that odd ending, the film works though, and the weird last minute decision doesn’t take away too much from the fun that you’ve seen throughout the rest of the film.