Friday, May 15, 2015

13 Sins - Movie Review

13 Sins
Directed by Daniel Stamm

No ending spoilers.

Our movie begins in Perth, Australia with a Professor Edgar Sullivan at a benefit honoring his accomplishments. Sullivan stands up and delivers a speech filled with vulgar and disturbing limericks and then proceeds to cut his wife's fingers off on the podium before being shot by the police and grasping for his ringing cellphone.

The audience watching at home collectively goes "WTF?" Yes, this is the beginning of 13 Sins, a remake of the Thai film, 13: Game of Death. Most American remakes are terrible. Yep, I said it. There have been a plethora of American remakes especially of Japanese horror films with very few being able to compete with their predecessors. I cannot say I have seen the Thai version of this film but as a standalone, the American version kept me very entertained.

After this amusing opening, we meet our main character Elliot, who has been trying for a promotion at his job but instead we see him get fired. Elliot has a special needs brother, Michael, a cranky dad who just got evicted and has to live with him, and a pregnant fiancee, Shelby. Just as the future seems pretty bleak, Elliott receives a mysterious phone call about an opportunity to compete on a game show for a fantastic cash prize. Whoever the mysterious man is on the phone knows all of Elliot's personal information, life history, and current debts.

Skeptical, Elliott plays along. The first challenge seems simple enough....

Challenge #1: Elliot has to swat a fly in his car. He does and gets $1,000 credited to his bank account.

Challenge #2: Eat aforementioned fly in order to pay off a $3,622 MasterCard debt. Success.

Elliot is now alerted that if he fails to complete a challenge, he will lose everything. However, if he completes 11 more challenges, he will claim a life-changing fortune. The game also ends if you tell anyone you are playing or attempt to interfere with the game.

Challenge #3: Make a child cry. Elliott tells a small girl at the park that her mommy doesn't love her and a man from an orphanage is coming to take her away.

Challenge #4: Elliott must steal a nativity scene from church and set it on fire. He does, but the fire also spreads to a set of curtains and the whole church starts to burn.

Challenge #5: Offer to trade a homeless man an ostrich and $1,000 for his clothes and shopping cart. Success. However, the homeless man is then taken to the police station and we see the little girl from before's mother filing a police report. Elliott is now on a Wanted poster.

Challenge #6: Take Mr. Shaw to a diner and get him a cup of coffee. Elliott follows directions to a dirty old apartment and here's where the film takes the turn from dark comedy to more gruesome and uncomfortable. You see, Mr. Shaw is found dead in his bathtub, yet Elliott still must complete the task, so he puts some clothes on him and wheels him down the street in a shopping cart and orders him some coffee in the diner as a large group of cops walk in and sit at the table behind him.

Challenge #7: Avoid arrest from aforementioned cops. Success because Elliott caught one of them slipping liquor into his coffee while on duty.

Challenge #8: Some time passes and Elliott comes across a bus parked in an alley with a creepy driver in a white mask and jester costume. Elliott must take a ride on the bus.

Challenge #9: Elliott gets dropped off at a motel and enters the room to see a bully he went to middle school with. The next challenge is to amputate this guy's arm below the elbow. Bloody, nasty, gruesome, weird.

Challenge #10: The next challenge is to wreck his rehearsal dinner, shatter some glasses, and urinate upon the centerpieces while singing the communist anthem. We are witness to the beginnings of Elliott's mental unraveling.

Challenge #11: Surrender and turn himself over to the security guards that witnessed the entire rehearsal dinner fiasco.

Around this time, we also learn that other people around town are playing the game as well, including Elliott's brother, Michael who gets in trouble for exposing himself to a girl on the basketball court. The cops start listing off various crimes that have been committed around town, none of which Elliott is responsible for.

Challenge #12: Elliott escapes from the cops and comes across an elderly woman hobbling down the street. Elliott's paranoia is sinking in and he thinks she is the next challenge. She is.  The woman asks him to hang up her clothesline to her trailer. He does and wins $1 million.  However, Elliott realizes too little too late that the clotheslines stretched all the way across the street and a group of bikers are fast approaching. Elliott panics and runs to pull the stake out of the ground that's connected to the clothesline just in time to save all of their lives. Dun, dun, dun, a shadowed figure walks out of the woods and puts the clothesline back up as the bikers turn around and start to come back down the street.

Elliott is too late to save them and they all, one by one, lose their heads, their scalps, some even cut in half. This scene was the most gruesome but also the most well-done in the movie. It actaully reminded me of the beginning of Ghost Ship if anyone remembers the opening sequence of that classic film, haha. At this point, Elliott has lost his mind and "quits the game" and flees the scene. It's not too long though before he realizes that Michael is his opponent, keeping him from winning the entire game and the final challenge is a doozy.

Challenge #13: Kill a family member. Now I'm not going to spoil for you what happens here at the end, but I'll just say it is intense and you won't be disappointed.

So from my plot summary, it may not seem that 13 Sins is an outright horror. Yes, there are comedic scenes. Yes, there are intense chase scenes. Yes, there are touching family moments. However, underlying all of this is the unsettling darkness of the human pysche and the lengths to which we may go at the promise of a better future, the end of our financial struggles, a day in the sun. 13 Sins has certain classic horror elements - the amputated arm, the biker beheading, the dead man in bathtub - which are scattered throughout the film at a decent pace and will leave your creepy appetite satiated. It is only when you start to delve underneath the outward gore and violence that you realize 13 Sins is a psychological horror escapade, our sympathetic hero forced to complete challenges against his will, only wanting to create a better future for his fiancee and unborn child.  Sadly, by the end of the film, the possibility of a better future is left extremely unclear.

Does Elliott win the game? Does Michael? Do they both die? Do they both survive? Who is the family member that must be killed? Does everyone live and the game isn't won by anyone? Are we left to celebrate the winning of a game for winning's sake or simply left feeling sad and uncomfortable at the depravity of human nature and our inherent greed?  I would definitely recommend giving 13 Sins a view. It is a healthy mix of humor and darkness combined with the thrill of a game and the internal anguish and conflict our leading man, Elliott, must face. We feel sorry for him as he cuts off someone's arm. How many people can you say that about?

So, about those student loans....


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