Elliot Brindle (Mark Webber) is in dire straits. His fiancee (Rutina Wesley, True Blood) is pregnant. His brother (Devon Graye) is mentally handicapped and about to be shipped back to an institution. To top it all off, Elliot just lost his job as an insurance salesman because he was too mild mannered to soak customers for more money.
Then he receives a call from a mysterious stranger telling him he can change his life. The caller knows everything about him, including his financial troubles, and offers him a way out. Just swat the fly buzzing around his head and he’ll receive $1,000. Eat it and he’ll get an additional $3,000.
Those were just the first two of 13 challenges he must accomplish to win the grand prize of six million dollars. But here’s the catch–he can’t tell anyone about his actions or interfere in any way with the outcome.
Oh, and each additional challenge becomes a little more inventive–and a little more heinous.
Elliot accepts the challenge and finds himself growing bolder and more fearless even as he’s heading down a path of self destruction. Soon his antics gain the attention of a cop (Ron Perlman) who, thanks to a conspiracy theorist (Pruitt Taylor Vince), discovers someone might be playing a dastardly game that began many years ago.
The premise of 13 Sins is a cross between Richard Matheson’s story, “Button, Button” and 1997’s The Game. When a more recent film attempts to tread familiar ground, especially with material that’s originally groundbreaking, it can turn out poorly (in which case it’s denounced as a rip-off) or distinguish itself from the others (and it’s referred to as an homage).
I’m very happy to say that 13 Sins falls into the latter category.
Director Daniel Stamm (The Last Exorcism), who co-wrote the script with David Birke, has created a taut thriller peppered with moments of black comedy (in my opinion, anyway, but I have a pretty warped sense of humor) and a sense of momentum that builds to a satisfying resolution.
The cast is also top notch, with Webber’s performance standing out as a man in despair whose very personality adapts to the ever increasing demands of the game. It takes a lot to pull that off and Webber does a great service to the character throughout the course of the film.
13 Sins isn’t without flaws, however, but they are minimal. The biggest one lies with a particular character that you realize there’s more to than meets the eye. I can’t reveal which because it would give away a large part of the mystery, but viewers should be able to pick up on that immediately. The other relates to the revelation that Elliot isn’t the only one playing the game. When the other player is revealed (as well as the twist regarding former players), it seemed a bit of a stretch considering who it is and what physical actions they’ve performed. Then again, if there are more than one, the contestant that Elliot sees while playing might have been someone completely different than who we suspect.
The most interesting aspect of 13 Sins is that it touches upon current issues facing America–debt, the economy, conspiracy theories, reality television, the 1%–without being really overt or preachy. Instead, they all combine to create a sense of realistic tension that enhances the horrific nature of Elliot’s choices. After all, what would you do if you were in his shoes?
All in all, 13 Sins is a great movie that shouldn’t be missed. It’s currently streaming on Netflix and is available on both DVD and BluRay.
13 Sins grade: A