“The devil made me do it,” might be an apt response for some of the mayhem and mischief that goes on in 13 Sins, but greed and desperation are more to the point. The film, directed by Daniel Stamm and based on the Thai film, 13 Games of Death, rides a one-trick-pony for all it’s worth. It might not be original, or superbly cut together, but it does pay dividends as it the scale of sociopathic doings becomes ever more satanic.
After a baroque opener that has an elder gentleman in a suit and tie launch into a four-letter-word fit at a podium only to perform impromptu digit surgery on a beloved one once he’s arguably calmed down, we meet Elliot (Mark Webber) who’s having the day from hell. His mentally impaired brother (Devon Graye) needs expensive meds, he’s expecting a child with his fiancée (Rutina Wesley), and with all the downward financial pressure, he gets tossed from his job by a patronizing ass of a boss, and we haven’t even gotten to his drunk, racist dad (Tom Bower) who needs to move in with them, and drops a few N-bombs on his African-American daughter-in-law-to-be just to let everyone know exactly what he’s thinking.
So it’s fortuitous, or ominous, when Elliot gets a call from a random avuncular soul who tells him, that if he kills the annoying fly buzzing about in his car, he’ll get a thousand dollars. At first, Elliot looks around to see if he’s been punked, but then complies. Boom, the money lights up in his account. (Smart phones are such great plot accelerator for rote horror films) and then he’s told, that if he then eats the squashed bug he’ll get three thousand more.
Onward goes the game, with thirteen challenges to be completed and a billion dollars at the end of the rainbow, but back out or fail, and you lose it all and perhaps more. Some of the tasks are silly, like frightening a young girl by instilling the notion that her parents are going to send her to an adoption agency or piss on a bouquet at your own rehearsal dinner, but later they become more demonic and outside the law. One deed requires a buzz saw, a plastic drop cloth and a porn-star quality nurse in a seedy motel. Though the film’s layered with many of the ingredients of the long-running Saw franchise (including the friendly coercive voice on the phone who sounds just like Charlie cooing to his Angels), it’s just not tethered to some dank dungeon—the action takes place out and about in the everyday world.
The game turns out to have bigger implications than just Elliot and, as the screw turns and the runaway train gathers critical speed, Elliot suddenly needs to get at who’s behind the curtain. Webber, who initially seems a little bit too wet-behind-the-ears and too much the victim, grows into the part, especially as Elliot’s trepidation melts and transforms into empowering bravado. It’s a bit hokey indeed, but Webber sells it as best he can, and it helps too that Stamm has Ron Perlman onboard as the reflective cop who’s onto Elliot’s misdeeds. His droll nonchalance is the glue that holds the evolving zaniness together. How it all ties up comes in a battery of reveals like Saw or Identity that both surprise and exhaust. The material is fairly B-level, and Stamm is pretty blessed to have Webber and Perlman to keep it from falling down a tier.
Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge, MA. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in The Boston Phoenix, Paste, The Rumpus, Thieves Jargon, Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere. You can follow him on Twitter.
Director: Daniel Stamm
Writer: Daniel Stramm and David Birke
Starring: David Webber, Ron Perlman, Devon Graye, Rutina Wesley and Tom Bower
Release Date: Apr. 18, 2014