13 Sins Review

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13 Sins (2014)

Cast: Mark Webber, Ron Perlman, Devon Graye
Director: Daniel Stamm
Country: USA
Genre: Horror | Thriller
Official Trailer: Here


Editor’s Note: 13 Sins is now open in limited release and on VOD

It takes no exceptional insight into the ways of the world today to realise the reason behind the boom in violently-inclined what-would-you-do-for-money thrillers of late. From the well-liked ilk of Cheap Thrills to the far-less feted likes of The Brass Teapot, American cinema especially has taken fiscal desperation to entertainingly exploitative new ends. Enter 13 Sins, a loose reworking of the 2006 Thai film 13 Beloved that’s at once a remake smartly shifted to a specific new context and a source material misreading that evidences the worst of Hollywood’s tendency to maintain the image of its repurposed properties while losing the essence. If it looks like a good movie, and sounds like a good movie, sometimes it’s best to go watch that good movie instead.

In leading man Mark Webber—ever the well of insecure intensity in supporting roles from Shrink to Broken Flowers—Stamm has a figure both sympathetic and schlubby enough to make the most of desperate drama and cockamamie comedy in equal measure.

13_sins_2013_3Which isn’t to say 13 Sins is bad, or at least not excessively so: Daniel Stamm, last seen in cinemas with The Last Exorcism, has made here a movie with the good sense to be fun, no matter how far it might stray from being smart. In leading man Mark Webber—ever the well of insecure intensity in supporting roles from Shrink to Broken Flowers—Stamm has a figure both sympathetic and schlubby enough to make the most of desperate drama and cockamamie comedy in equal measure. He’s a pathetic sort, but pitiful too, bearing the sort of shattered visage that’s soulful enough to see us through the script’s contrived setup to the unexpected call that establishes the rules of the game.

They, like the rules of The Game—if not at all like The Rules of the Game—drive our hero to self-destruction with the legal and moral challenges they offer in ample measure. Set out by a disembodied voice of increasingly irritating animation, they’re not so much the steps in a cash-for-crime game as an excuse for a silly string of varyingly-violent set pieces that Stamm mounts with a fusion of bare competence and bloody indulgence. They’re at their best, and the film with them, when sidling toward slapstick abandon, as in the scene where our hero has to order a barely-dressed corpse coffee as a cadre of cops sit in the booth behind him. More often, they struggle to make much of anything out of the moral quandaries they pose.

… even at its best, 13 Sins is a film curiously devoid of context, unable to pair the extremities of its inflictions with the economic issues they ostensibly address.

13_sins_2013_4That’s, perhaps, because Stamm fares far better in the depiction of violence than in the discussion of its consequences; even at its best, 13 Sins is a film curiously devoid of context, unable to pair the extremities of its inflictions with the economic issues they ostensibly address. It’s an exploitation movie that daren’t admit it, cheap fluff masquerading as more and very poor at it. As much as is offered by Webber’s efforts, his isn’t a character in whom any reality resides, not least of all given a conclusion that multiplies the movie’s ethical issues tenfold. Stamm’s take on this tale is unflinchingly American; the benefits that brings are far outweighed by its eventual, irreparable setbacks.

Chief among them is that denouement, a finale so phenomenally tone-deaf it’s astonishing. As if the flimsy family dynamics that contribute twist after twist in the final act aren’t enough to undo all the film’s good—they are—the absurd endpoint ensures a parting on the worst terms possible. What a shame: for so long 13 Sins seems like silly, serviceable schlock. That Stamm and co-writer mishandle the movie’s capabilities for smart commentary is bad enough; that they smother it in stale plotting and plain stupidity is just a step too far. Traipsing through the narrative, brow furrowed in combined disbelief and disdain, Ron Perlman’s brooding detective makes for exactly as good an audience surrogate as the protagonist he tracks ought to have.

[notification type=”star”]45/100 ~ BAD. [/notification]

4.5 BAD

As if the flimsy family dynamics that contribute twist after twist in the final act aren’t enough to undo all the film’s good—they are—the absurd endpoint ensures a parting on the worst terms possible. What a shame: for so long 13 Sins seems like silly, serviceable schlock.

  • 4.5
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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.