Game On: Stamm’s Latest a B-Grade But Fun Genre Flick
Director Daniel Stamm leaves behind the found footage genre for his third outing as director with 13 Sins, a remake of a 2006 Thai film. While Stamm’s follow-up to his surprisingly well made 2010 film The Last Exorcist was originally slated to be an English language remake of the French juggernaut of torture porn, Martyrs (2008), it is perhaps a stroke of luck to see him working with less controversial material this time around as it gives Stamm a chance to flex his skills with darkly humorous genre. Playing like a blend of Saw meets The Most Dangerous Game in the confines of “The Twilight Zone,” there’s a lot of fun to be had with this blatant metaphor for the capacity (or is it necessity?) of violence in the face of overcoming the trap of economic systems and realities, even though though it inevitably overextends itself with convoluted conspiracy theories and final twists.
Elliot Brindle (Mark Webber) is an unassuming and meek social services coordinator. He’s languishing in credit card debt and student loans and is about to marry his pregnant fiancée Shelby (Rutina Wesley) their very next weekend together. Elliot is also responsible for caring for his handicapped younger brother (Devon Graye) and his older, contemptuous father (Tom Bower). Upon being fired from his position due to his inability to needlessly fleece customers, Elliot has lost the insurance he needs to remain caring for his brother at home. As his life heads into a tailspin, he receives a mysterious call on his cell phone informing him that he’s on a hidden camera game show, and if he kills the fly buzzing around in his car, $1,000.00 will be automatically deposited in his bank account. Incredulous, Elliot kills the fly, receiving a text that funds have been added. If he eats the fly, an even greater amount will be deposited. The voice explains that if Elliott executes 13 tasks as ordered, he will receive enough money to be set for life. He can stop playing at any time and face losing all the money he’s earned. But Elliott doesn’t quite seem to comprehend what these tasks will escalate into.
Stamm and screenwriter David Birke throw in what must be meant as a few nifty little flourishes in 13 Sins, like Elliot’s surname, Brindle, which happens to mean ‘branded,’ a detail that seems a bit silly during a histrionic finale which tries to tie everything together a bit too conveniently. Of course, asking for logical explanations would be a waste of time so trying to figure out where all the hidden cameras are, how he charges his cell phone, and how ‘the game’ might have been played in a less technologically savvy era are all thankless questions in a parable about greed and privilege.
It’s when we slip into Ron Perlman’s subplot concerning an investigation into the conspiracy theory of the dreaded and unfathomable power of the 1% as angry gods, so bored with their lives they’ve been reduced to torturing the increasingly fettered blue collars like ants under a magnifying glass, that the film seems especially silly. More successful is the likeable performance from Mark Webber, an ordinary man forced into extremes, which are never quite as shocking (at least by today’s standards) as they’re trying to be. Supporting players like “True Blood” star Rutina Wesley and creepy character actor Tom Bower are also entertaining (less so Devon Graye as the handicapped brother).
Sawing off arms and clothesline decapitating motorcyclists aside, 13 Sins is perversely entertaining enough to keep hold interest, sporting a rather grungy, crumbly New Orleans in Zoltan Honti’s cinematography. With three features under his belt, Daniel Stamm is an interesting genre director to keep tabs on, one who knows how to remain stealthily entertaining even when things fall apart.