13 Sins (2014) (R)

Money is the root of all evil. It's not an uncommon thought, even outside of today's movies. There have been many books and movies that have asked the question: how much would you do for money? On the flip side, there's also ransom-type setting that begs our main characters to give up all their money for a loved one. It becomes a dichotomy between the value we place on our assets and the value that we place on the individual. With "13 Sins", it's a little bit of both.
Just like "Cheap Thrills", we are given a situation in which money is the answer to the problem at hand concerning the individuals that we hold most dear. A remake of the 2006 film "13: Game of Death", "13 Sins" excels at being explosively fun and terrifyingly gruesome at the same time. It's not just a slasher film, there is a tightly constructed plot to it—one that may seem a bit far-fetched when analyzed, but still fun.
Elliot Brindle (Mark Webber) is not having a good day. He is a sales representative who thinks that he's going to get a promotion; but instead is fired by his condescending boss. Now without a job, having to support his pregnant fiance, his autistic brother, and his unthankful father; Elliot does his best to try to remain calm even though the situation clearly demands panic.
It begins in the middle of the night, when a cellphone rings...it's not Elliot's cellphone, but it's in Elliot's pocket. He answer and hears a very cheerful, if a little off-kilter, voice on the other end. The voice tells him everything he already knows: he's screwed. No job, an ungrateful father, a handicapped brother, and the weight of an oncoming marriage...Elliot should be sweating bullets right now. But let's make things a little easier. The voice says that if Elliot kills a fly, he will be rewarded $1,000. It doesn't take long for Elliot to swat the little pest away and the voice congratulates him on a job well done. But wait, there's more...if Elliot eats the fly, he will get even more money.
On the evidence that the money is actually getting transferred to his bank account, Elliot begrudgingly swallows the fly and earns a total of close to $5,000. Now he receives a proposition: let's play a game. There are thirteen challenges, Elliot has already completed two. If he completes all thirteen, he will receive a lottery total of almost six million dollars. There is one catch: if he fails, he will lose all the money he's accumulated so far and he will atone for all his sins.
"13 Sins" rather cleverly doesn't take itself as seriously as its source material could be taken. "Cheap Thrills" exemplifies this kind of paranoid messy slash fest. "13 Sins" on the other hand, is quite funny at moments. It doesn't try to be a comedy; but it can't help itself at moments, just because some situations are too ridiculous for anything but laughter.
As Elliot gets further into the game, the stakes get higher and the challenges get more and more outlandish. There is nothing here that goes too far beyond itself; but the film stretches for those moments of unbelievable shock-factor.
Elliot's little challenges haven't gone unnoticed by the police. He has started to gain a reputation for himself with only one day of sinning. A certain Detective Chilcoat (Ron Perlman) starts figuring out that these crimes might be part of a bigger picture. It's he that stumbles across the idea of the game that Elliot is now stuck with playing.
The law starts to close in around Elliot's neck and the challenges get more brutal with each passing hour.
"13 Sins" is rather clumsy in its character development on paper. It has a nice mannered young man turning into "a monster". Why? Because money corrupts. Somehow, director Daniel Stamm and Mark Webber both make us feel like the transformation from mild-mannered to super-evil is quite natural. Webber's performance is understated and under-appreciated—he's wonderful.
There are some plot holes here, but that is expected. There are also some problems with how nice Elliot appears to be at first and then how much the film changes him.
The idea of truly knowing yourself...yes, we saw it in "Cheap Thrills" and here as well. But I think this movie is a success because it has a nice way of placating the viewer throughout the acts of degradation.
It's very entertaining, though not for the faint of heart.

Score: ★★★

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