13 Sins (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★
While waiting for the stoplight to turn green, a cell phone rings. Elliot (Mark Webber) picks up the call and a voice congratulates him for having been chosen to participate in a unique game where one can potentially win so much money that he will be set for the rest of his life. Given that Elliot has a lot of pecuniary problems, he entertains the idea.
The voice claims that the game has thirteen challenges. After each challenge, money will be deposited into the participant’s bank account. However, if the participant fails to complete a challenge at any point in the game, he will be forced to forfeit all of his winnings. Elliot’s first challenge is to kill a fly. Easy enough—Elliot is $1000 richer. The second challenge is to eat the fly for $3522.
“13 Sins,” written by David Birke and Daniel Stamm, is a fun, disgusting, and twisted thriller, but it captures the viewer’s attention so tightly that it is near impossible to look away. The premise is so simple: How far a person is willing to go to dissolve one’s debts and provide a better life for his family as well as loved ones. And since the challenges become increasingly difficult, the viewer can gauge at which point he or she will be willing to play the game. I probably would have quit by the fifth challenge. (The fourth is pretty terrible but I think I could do it.)
The challenges are enjoyable because there is variation to them. In movies with a premise like this, it is very tempting to make each challenge violent and bloody. Here, we are offered a nice change of pace. Some of the tasks are disgusting, shameful, morally reprehensible, and a few that are just rotten. I appreciated that the writers are not tempted by making every assignment violent in order to pass as compelling. When violence is reached, it is earned and, admittedly, I felt a mix of disgust and morbid glee.
A subplot that should have been more fruitful involves a cop, Chilcoat (Ron Perlman), who is following Elliot’s trail. The police station has received various complaints—all in the same day—involving the same man. The intuitive cop senses that something does not quite fit and so he entertains the idea that perhaps there is something else driving the suspect’s bizarre criminal actions.
However, the final third does not give Chilcoat the exploration he deserves. We see him doing some work but his methods—the reasons why he is the right man to possibly save Elliot from the deadly game—are not well-defined. One gets the impression that the screenwriters know how to write an effective thriller but not an astute procedural. It is a strange combination.
It is best to reveal as few details as possible about “13 Sins,” a remake of Chookiat Sakveerakul’s “13 game sayawng,” because part of the fun is the element of surprise. We know that our protagonist will have to reach the thirteenth challenge. Otherwise, why is he special enough to get our attention? Thus, it is a smart move that the path to get to the final challenge be as unpredictable—but remaining sensical—as possible. There are light twists but not too many or powerful enough to become distractions.