FEARNET Movie Review: '13 Sins' [SXSW 2014]


The question of how far a person will go -- or how low a person will sink -- for large financial gain is one of the more prevalent and provocative questions in recent horror cinema. Eli Roth's Hostel series had a dark and compelling hook that showed how the very wealthy can toy with a person's flesh just because they need a new kick. More recently the excellently twisted thriller called Cheap Thrills offered a series of progressively more disturbing bribes and wagers. 

The also fascinating Series 7: The Contenders (2001) offered murder for money, as did Roger Corman's delightful Death Race 2000 from 1975 and the half-decent remake from 2008. Going back as far as The Most Dangerous Game (1932), and probably earlier, the idea of murder as a financial "game" has been a hallmark of horror cinema.
One mentions all of that because of this: several years ago the Weinstein company purchased a pretty solid Thai horror film called 13: Game of Death (or 13 Beloved, depending on where you live), and the plan was to use that film's premise for an English-language remake. (They also released the Thai film on DVD under their Dimension Extreme banner; check it out.) Eight years later, here's the remake!
Good news? The producers hired director Daniel Stamm (A Necessary Death, The Last Exorcism) and allowed him to take the best part of 13: Game of Death (that would be the bizarre premise) and branch off in some interesting new directions. Whether the remake is "better" than the original is up to the individual horror nut, but as a fan of the original Thai import, I also found a lot to enjoy in 13 Sins.
The prolific and quietly skilled Mark Webber stars as a semi-likable loser who is about to lose his sales job, has no money, and is generally treated like crap by the entire universe. He does, however, have: A) a lovely fiancee, B) a racist jerk for a father, C) a mentally challenged brother, and D) an inescapable feeling of desperation and stress. And that's when Billy gets a strange phone call promising him huge cash prizes for finishing a series of bizarre tasks. At first he has to kill an insect, but (this being a horror film) it's not long before poor Billy is compelled to terrify children, commit arson, vandalize a wedding hall, and things a whole lot worse than that.
If it's Webber's strong performance that keeps 13 Sins afloat during its most strained or redundant moments, it's the fast-paced editorial clip that keeps the film entertaining. At its best moments, 13 Sins manages to maintain a solid sense of "all in one crazy night" energy that makes the more outlandish moments a bit more forgivable, plus there's nothing wrong with a nasty little psychological thriller that finds some screen time for Ron Perlman (as a wily detective), Pruitt Taylor Vince (as a haunted former contestant and exposition delivery man), and Tom Bower (as one rotten bastard of an old man). Rutina Wesley (as Billy's bewildered fiancee) adds a small dash of heart and class when she pops up, but for the most part, 13 Sins is a pretty cold and heartless affair.
13 Sins covers a fair amount of familiar ground (think Crank as a horror flick), and even its best component (the mean-spirited and twisted plot) is borrowed from a film that's barely eight years old -- but given the film's unpredictably nasty demeanor, an excellent lead performance, plenty of strong support work, and (best of all) a thoroughly expeditious pace that forces even the wackiest of plot twists to make a little sense, there's more than enough here for a "psychological horror" fan to get behind. Plus it might make you want to track down the Thai film, which is one of the cooler things a decent remake can accomplish.