Elliot is a salesman who has just lost his job. With a wedding and baby on the way, an autistic brother to care for and a father who’s just been given an eviction notice, he doesn’t know what he’s going to do. He gets a mysterious phone call about a game promising increasing monetary rewards for completing 13 tasks, each worse than the last.
This kind of ‘dare’ film has gotten rather popular lately – other similar films like Would You Rather (2012) and Cheap Thrills (2013) – all following a similar structure. Unfortunately none of them seem to really get into the real psychological issues that this kind of theme should explore. Cheap Thrills has been the best of the lot so far; balancing humour and tragedy extremely well and just hitting all the right notes, but it still doesn’t really get into the meaty depths.
This film doesn’t really do it either. It’s hard to not compare it to the other two because of the similarities, though none of that has any bearing on the quality of the actual film (but using them for comparison or possible recommendations). Elliot is the typical ‘down on his luck’, desperate for money, nice guy who just wants to take care of his family. The challenges begin simply as eating a fly or making a child cry, but always end up with a moral dilemma of someone getting killed.
The basic theme is ‘how far would you go for money?’. The ‘nice guy’ whose desperation drives him to do basically anything for some cash. On the other hand, the people ‘pulling the strings’ represent the voyeuristic nature of the audience. Unfortunately when this idea has little depth behind it, it ends up just looking exploitative. 13 Sins attempts to look at some of these concepts, but never really explores them fully. The Caller mentions purposely choosing tasks that would make the participant do things outside of their comfort zone. I thought this was interesting, but it’s never about the person coming face to face with their flaws (unlike say, the first Saw film which revolves entirely around that point), and it’s instead only used to make the tasks seem ‘crazy’ and in turn, less subtle and more exploitative. It’s also not dark or gory enough to be exploitative in that way, so that doesn’t really work either.
Despite seeming critical of it, it’s not a terrible film – but it doesn’t offer anything different and is pretty average in all aspects. I do find these ideas interesting so keep watching, but it’s a pretty tired structure already. It may be effective for people who haven’t seen many films like this, but otherwise it’s just an ok watch.
I think this kind of film is the next step in the ‘Saw‘ type of films, which is a bit unfortunate because only the occasional film gets it right. People chuck around the word ‘exploitative’ too much, but a lot of these films do come across this way because they are too focused on shocking the audience rather than getting them to think.