With just six little words – “I want to play a game” – the Jigsaw killer in Saw became (for better or worse) a fixture of modern horror cinema. It’s inevitable that such an iconic character would garner inferior copycats. Sadly, in 13 Sins, a remake of a Thai film called 13 Beloved, the fact that Jigsaw’s mark can be felt everywhere doesn’t automatically make the movie itself any good. Saw (occasionally) managed to make over-the-top gore entertaining and darkly funny. 13 Sins, on the other hand, excises everything other than the grim brutality, making it a much less enjoyable viewing experience.
We open as down-in-the-dumps protagonist Elliot Brindle (Mark Webber) is having a particularly awful day. With a baby on the way, a wedding to plan (to True Blood‘s Rutina Wesley, no less), an angry father (Tom Bower) and a mentally disabled brother (Devon Graye) to care for, and student loans still to pay off, Elliot just can’t deal with any more pressure – but that’s precisely what he gets when his son-of-a-bitch boss (Richard Burgi) fires him despite an uptick of sales. So, when he gets a call from a mysterious game show host offering him millions in exchange for completing 13 missions, Elliot’s more than willing to listen.
Unfortunately, the tasks he’s given soon step up from swatting a fly to making children cry, commiting arson and desecrating a corpse – and the tasks that follow those are worse still. But if Elliot stops at any point before he hits 13, he forfeits all the money he’s earned. As Elliot flees police (led by Ron Perlman’s Detective Chilcoat) and baffles his soon-to-be wife with his strange behavior, he grows increasingly determined to complete the challenges, even if doing so comes at the risk of sacrificing his own sanity, morality, dignity, family and even his life.
It’s an intriguing set-up, sure, but the main problem with 13 Sins becomes obvious early on. Simply put, writer David Birke and director Daniel Stamm don’t have much more up their sleeves than making Elliot do terrible things in the pursuit of riches. The movie plays like an extended episode of “Fear Factor,” only with less tension. We know that Elliot is going to keep going, no matter how terrible the tasks, and we know that it’s not going to turn out well for him – and as a result, there’s very little suspense or excitement in observing the proceedings. A little humor (which the Thai 13 Beloved had) would have gone a very long way to making 13 Sins more enjoyable, but all that’s up on the screen is grating brutality and unflinching misery. It’s not even scary – just savage and sanguinary.
Webber’s lead performance is undeniably impressive. He makes for a compelling Everyman, selling Elliot’s initial reluctance to shake things up in his life (particularly in a violent and destructive manner) as well as his eventual delight in breaking bad. Though Elliot does some pretty awful things, he’s never a monster, thanks both to twists in Birke’s script and Webber’s strong sense of likability. 13 Sins would not have worked with a lesser actor. Graye, too, does strong work as Elliot’s disabled brother Michael, who is given a surprising amount to do in the final act. Sadly, Perlman, Bower and Wesley are all sidelined and play cardboard cut-out supporting characters.
What I was most disappointed about with 13 Sins is that I was never really entertained by it. Blood sprays, chaos reigns, Elliot embraces his inner darkness and the games get increasingly dangerous, yes, but 13 Sins never provides any rhyme or reason for all the bloodshed. Without that, it’s just an empty carnival ride. While 13 Sins really isn’t a bad movie in terms of direction, acting or writing, it feels like a missed opportunity.
The 1080p video transfer for the 13 Sins Blu-Ray provides consistently strong visuals without ever really popping. Stamm employed a dark, drab color palette for this movie, and everything he wanted 13 Sins to be in terms of video, this Blu-Ray delivers. The black levels are invitingly dark and inky, the detail on everything from slick pools of blood to sweat-stained brows is superb and the flesh tones are appropriately realistic throughout. Though nothing really grabbed my attention, this is a solid video transfer from Anchor Bay.
Similarly, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio Track does its job without ever leaving much of an impact. The dialogue is handled evenly and always given priority throughout the movie, background sound effects like motorcycles purring and saws whirring are implemented effectively, and the music is very well spaced out. One can tell that sound was particularly important to 13 Sins because the disembodied voice on the phone is an instrumental part of the movie, as is Elliot’s carnival ringtone. Both the voice on the phone and the ringtone are handled with skill, each remaining crisp and clear throughout.
13 Sins comes on Blu-Ray with a small assortment of bonus features, such as:
- Audio Commentary
- The Making of 13 Sins (8:38)
- Deleted Sequence (5:50)
- Alternate Ending (2:01)
- Anatomy of a Meltdown (2:42)
The audio commentary features director Daniel Stamm and actors Mark Webber, Ron Perlman, and Devon Graye. They discuss a number of topics, starting out with how they worked to quickly establish the dark tone of 13 Sins with a gory opening sequence and then transitioning into a holistic discussion of 13 Sins. The setting, acting, writing, editing and sound are all focuses, but the track also leaves time for some lighter back-and-forth about how filming went.
A pretty standard making-of featurette, “The Making of 13 Sins” runs the gamut from talking about Stamm and how he became involved with the project to the challenges of shooting a movie on a very low budget. A lot of thought clearly went into making 13 Sins, and this featurette brings out what various individuals involved with the production thought about the main actors, their great chemistry and why they feel 13 Sins works as a movie. As someone who wasn’t a fan, I can still appreciate the tremendous amount of work that went into it.
There was a task that didn’t make it into the final cut of the movie (which was probably a good thing), and that’s the focus of the deleted sequence. I won’t spoil it for fans of the film who’ll definitely want to check it out – suffice to say, it’s more than disturbing enough to rank among the main 13 tasks. Same goes for the alternate ending, which is much darker than the one that viewers saw in the final cut. Personally, I prefer the one Stamm went with – but perhaps horror aficionados will find the alternative also to their liking.
Finally, “Anatomy of a Meltdown” is pretty funny, centering on a tiff between Stamm and Birke that erupted when Stamm suggested that they cut a scene Birke had been hard at work on for days (the same scene included as a deleted sequence). When one considers that Birke is supposedly a milquetoast kind of guy, the recorded Skype call that makes up “Anatomy” seems even funnier.
In conclusion, 13 Sins offers sufficient video and audio as well as a decent handful of extras. The film itself, however, is nothing you should stand in line for. Unfortunately, Webber’s fine performance can’t save the film from its lackluster script. Severely lacking in suspense, humor, intelligence and even scares, 13 Sins turns out to be nothing more than a series of increasingly barbaric acts committed without enough context or conviction to make them really connect. What a pity.
Overly brutal and gory without purpose, 13 Sins is a much more punishing watch than it was ever intended to be.