Graphic Horror: 13 Sins
13 Sins 2014
I feel like I’ve been slacking off a little bit in the horror department this year, but I did manage to get this film in. It’s a bit of an oddity as it’s a remake of a Thai film called 13 Beloved or 13: Game of Death which itself is based on a short comic called 13th Quiz Show from a series called My Mania. It’s interesting that from what I can tell, any reference to the origins of the story isn’t present in the marketing or special features of this film. It’s ultimately a cross between a reality show, a little bit of Saw, and a little Falling Down. There are some interesting ideas presented along with a bit of a distracting conspiracy theory element and a couple half-hearted twists. But overall, the film was an interesting psychological thriller with a bit of gore for good measure, and not only that but a surprising amount of dark comedy spread throughout.
The film follows the typical down on his luck, spineless loser named Elliot. He’s drowning in debt, trying to pay for a wedding for his newly pregnant fiancee, only to be fired from his job as an insurance salesman because he’s just too damned honest. Not only that, but he has an Autistic brother who he is in charge of and a racist father who’s getting evicted and decides to move in with Elliot and his Black fiancee. Things start to change as he gets a random call with a circus-themed ringtone offering him a chance to win millions of dollars by completing thirteen challenges starting with something as simple as swatting a fly. As can be expected, the challenges get more difficult and more twisted with each success.
One of the more interesting things about the way these challenges are handled are how during several moments it becomes more like a drug. At first, Elliot is repulsed by the challenge – like eating the fly he just swatted or making a child cry – but with each victory he gets this rush because he not only won an increasing amount of money, but he also gets the added victory of overcoming something within himself. Like when he gets revenge on a pair of old middle school bullies. It culminates near the midway point as he is with his wife’s family and all their friends at their rehearsal dinner, but all he can do is nervously pace while he waits for the phone to ring again with his next challenge. And in the third act, he becomes more bedraggled as he looks more and more like a junkie after he finally realizes that he needs to quit, regardless of the consequences.
What really helps sell some of the challenges are the bits of humor thrown in at various points. Most of it comes at Elliot’s initial discomfort at several of his challenges along with the bizarre nature of them, especially when combined with the circus music every time the phone rings, as well as the fact that he’s not supposed to let anyone else know that it’s all part of a game. There’s a great moment of catharsis as he realizes the solution to a potentially embarrassing situation of public property destruction including urination.
There’s also an underlying sense of surveillance throughout the entire game. Every instruction is given to Elliot over the phone, but there’s always a sense that someone is watching him, and only rarely is there an explicit camera available as an excuse for this ability. It’s never entirely addressed, but rather just an unspoken explanation for the all-seeing, all-knowing voice. But more than that, there’s the element of the overwhelming conspiracy of those involved in the game. When someone is not just willing, but desperately wants to have their arm cut off below the elbow, it reeks of something more going on. But there’s also another character thrown in for good measure, fans of this site might recognize him as the fat guy who drinks himself to death in Keanu Reeve’s version of Constantine. This guy is the conspiracy theory nut who gives a little more background information on this cult including the requisite hint involving JFK. It doesn’t really add much to the story aside from creating a fictional mythology surrounding this game show that probably would be just as effective without any more than a voice on a phone.
As the film comes to a close, there are a few extra twists and turns, including the revelation of a previous winner of the game as well as an extra contestant. There are a few moments of foreshadowing, like when his father is praying at church and he is sitting in pew 13, and there are a couple other times later on when there are room number corresponding to the challenge number Elliot is on, but unfortunately there’s little else on that thread to follow throughout the movie. The one sub plot that was interesting was Ron Perlman’s detective who is following the case. That is one argument for having the additional conspiracy theorist as it gives Perlman’s character a little bit more to do, but even without that he would have made a nice presence. There are several threads to pull on in this movie and while some of them end up coming out with nothing to show for it, there are enough that have satisfying ends to make the film feel worthwhile. The performances are also well done, with Mark Webber playing both the full on schlub and the reluctant participant. Devon Graye plays his autistic brother in what feels like a respectful way though I don’t have enough knowledge to make a qualified statement on that side of things. There’s never any moments of actual horror, though there are a few cases of gore intended for the shock value more than anything else. It was a fascinating look at how Elliot as a character was transformed by this entire ordeal and while there were a few missteps along the way, it was an enjoyable ride. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.