Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Triskaidekaphilia: '13 Sins' (2014)

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13. 

It's been several years since I wrote about the Thai thriller 13: Game of Death (also known as 13 Beloved), which was apparently a huge hit in Thailand, winning awards and spawning a sequel as well as an American remake, 13 Sins. The remake sticks to the same basic premise, with a downtrodden loser getting a mysterious phone call offering him huge amounts of money to engage in ever-more-depraved acts, starting with something mildly unpleasant and ending in murder. Like the original, 13 Sins has a tough time modulating its tone, shifting from dumb comedy to brutal horror to sappy melodrama, and not finding much success in any of them. 13 Sins also alters and adds to the mythology behind the sinister game, using it to bring in a final-act twist, but not in a way that makes the story more effective or illuminating.

Mark Webber, who's been solid in indie-movie supporting roles, is a bit of a wet blanket here as sad-sack main character Elliot Brindle, whose troubles include losing his job, trying to plan a wedding to his pregnant fiancee, and having to care for both a mentally challenged brother and a racist, destitute elderly father. He doesn't really hesitate to play the game that starts with the command to kill a fly, and soon he's gleefully engaging in mayhem and property destruction. But his journey from meek and passive to wild-eyed and aggressive doesn't have much depth, and it's hard to care about whether or not he can complete his tasks and turn his crappy life around.

Director and co-writer Daniel Stamm doesn't help things by giving extra focus to the nonsensical mythology, with Ron Perlman wasted in a supporting role as a detective tracking Elliot, and Pruitt Taylor Vince playing a stereotypical conspiracy theorist who helpfully explains the backstory. It just leads to disappointment with the anticlimactic twist at the end, and the supposed ethical dilemmas presented by the situation aren't as complex as the movie makes them out to be. Devon Graye is irritating as the mentally challenged brother, who, in typical movie fashion, is as intelligent or oblivious as the plot calls for him to be at various times.

The movie closes on a dumb laugh line that undermines the potential horror of what came before, not that it was all the disturbing to begin with. The higher production values give this version of the story some added gruesomeness (although the infamous shit-eating challenge from the original is left out), but that doesn't give it any added intensity. The original may be inconsistent, but at least it has some vision behind it; this is just an anonymous retread.

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