13 Sins (2014)
“You don’t play the game. It plays you.”
13 Sins opens at one of those slightly pompous awards ceremony for a white-haired professor who approaches the rostrum to receive his accolade with no small amount of trepidation. Unfolding a sheet of paper, he commences to read his speech, which is comprised of two limericks, one of which is a little coarse but amusing, the second of which the gathered audience finds to be both offensive and embarrassing. Apologising to the woman who steps forward to comfort him, the professor grabs hold of her hand and begins hacking away at one of her fingers. His behaviour causes widespread panic amongst the gathering, and in the melee that ensues an over-zealous security guard shoots the professor dead. As he falls to the ground, his mobile phone rings to the strains of Entrance of the Gladiators…
That’s a tune we’re going to hear a lot of in the next ninety minutes as the focus of 13 Sins shifts to Elliot Brindle (Mark Webber) who, as we meet him, is not only about to be fired from his job as an insurance salesman, but is going to be told exactly what a loser he is by the contemptible suit who’s administering the boot. Brindle is already up to his neck in debt, thanks largely to having to pay $1200 on care for Michael (Devon Graye), his mentally challenged younger brother, and his black girlfriend, Shelby (Rutina Wesley) is expecting their first baby, so losing his job couldn’t have come at a worse time. To make things worse, Brindle’s curmudgeonly and racist father (Tom Bower — Out of the Furnace) is about to be evicted from his sheltered housing and will have to move in with Brindle and Shelby.
Brindle is more or less at the end of his tether when he receives a phone call one night while waiting at traffic lights in the middle of nowhere. Not only does the voice on the other end of the line seem to know everything about him, its owner is also able to see what Brindle is doing as they speak. The voice offers him $1,000 simply to swat the fly that’s buzzing around in his car. When Brindle complies, the voice offers him an even greater sum to eat the fly he’s just killed. When he eventually carries out this task the voice explains that he now has the opportunity to play a game made up of 13 tasks, two of which he has already completed, and each of which will pay a greater reward than the last upon completion. However, Brindle is not allowed to tell anyone that the tasks he’s carrying out are part of a game, and he loses everything he’s won if he fails or refuses to complete any of the tasks he is set. Egged on by the fact that he now has $7000 more in his bank account than he had before he swatted that fly, Brindle agrees.
Naturally, the tasks Brindle is set take an altogether nastier turn once he’s in the game. Beginning with the instruction to make a child cry, they escalate in unpleasantness and difficulty from buying a dead man a cup of coffee in a cafe, amputating the arm of a former schoolmate who bullied him mercilessly as a kid and, ultimately, to kill. Brindle is appalled by the tasks he is set, but he carries them out nonetheless. And doing so brings about a noticeable change of character in him, transforming him from something of an apologetic doormat to a confident and assertive winner.
13 Sins is certainly an intriguing movie, even if it does grow increasingly silly during its final act. It’s based on a Thai movie which is apparently much darker than this remake, and 13 Sins certainly lacks the dark edge that its subject matter calls for. The revelation of who (or what) is behind the game is something of a disappointment too, although given the God-like way in which that voice knows exactly what Brindle is up to at any given time, it’s the only solution the writers could conceivably have come up with that was even half-way plausible. There are also a couple of twists as 13 Sins nears its conclusion, one of which strains credulity to the limit, while the other proves to be quite effective. The ending does at least neatly tie together all the information we’ve been fed throughout the movie, but the whole thing is riddled with so many plot holes, and eventually becomes so far-fetched, that all the initial promise is dissipated.