Many moons ago, the Weinstein company purchased the rights to the 2006 Thai horror film 13: Game of Death with the intention of making an English-language remake. Now it’s eight year later and 13 Sins is finally here. I’ve never seen the original, so I can’t comment on whether the Daniel Stamm (The Last Exorcism) directed remake was worth the wait or not. I did have a really good time with it though and besides being tonally uneven at times, 13 Sins is a darkly comedic, macabre little morality tale.
It’s been a painfully shitty day for Elliot (Mark Webber), a low-tier salesman who’s weeks away from marrying his pregnant fiancee. Just as he thinks he’s set up for a big promotion, he’s fired by his arrogantly dickheaded boss. After being tossed out, he learns that his cynical, racist father (Tom Bower) is getting evicted from his old folks’ home and will have to move in. Elliot is already taking care of his mentally-disabled brother Tom (Devon Graye), so with another mouth to feed, a bun in the oven, and the countdown to his wedding closing in, he’s financially in the toilet.
That’s when Elliot gets a mysterious phone call promising him tremendous cash prices if he’ll partake in a series of “challenges.” The first is swatting a fly, simple enough. The games escalate from there (of course) and soon Elliot finds himself performing some incredibly horrendous and hilarious tasks.
An interesting aspect of 13 Sins is that as the game progresses, it becomes clear that it’s less about the cash and mayhem, and more about Elliot proving his manhood to himself. He’s been pushed around by his peers, his boss, and his father throughout his entire life. Before he started playing, he was wallowing in his fatalistic role as the perpetual loser. Hours later he’s taunting cops and loving every second of it. There are even a few moments where Elliot diverts from the game to score the equivalent of “ego bonus points” for himself. Embrace the change, Elliot. Embrace the change.
This type of role could easily go off the rails, but in the hands of the prolific Mark Webber, Elliot’s transformation from unassertive coward to harbinger of havoc is a powerful one. It’s his performance that keeps the film slightly grounded even during its more ridiculous scenes. There’s a lot of humor in the first half of the film that peters out as the challenges enter dark territory, but Webber is able to keep a firm grip on his performance and 13 Sins as a whole. The script doesn’t allow for much to be taken seriously, however, when the overall tone feels as imprecise as it does here. Dramatic moments frequently fall short and the conclusion is filled with so many twists, it’s difficult to care about the fate of some characters.
The premise of regular people doing horrible things for financial gain is a sadly relevant one in our day and age. 13 Sins, along with recent flicks like Would You Rather and the superior Cheap Thrills, provides a horrific example of how far some people will go to pull themselves out of debt. And, perhaps even more loathsome, how far some will go to be entertained. 13 Sins offers up a premise we’ve seen before, but offers enough entertaining thrills and laughs to make it a good time. You’re going to love Ron Perlman’s line about “Hamlet,” trust me.