What would you do? This question has long been posed by some of cinemas most mischevious film-makers. 13 Sins takes this morality poser to what must be the most intriguing tangent in quite some time. In order for this to work (and the reason for some of the film’s less enamoured reviews) our protaganist has to be something of the ordinary. If not, the audience will be unable to relate to him and as such, the question will be lost, with the viewer merely looking on as observer in a story that they have no personal psychological investment in.
And this has been handled quite delicately. Our lead, played here by the completely ordinary Mark Webber, is a an average joe, just trying to get by, by doing the right thing. He works hard as he has a marriage and a baby on the way. Add to this that he has to continue to look after his mentally challenged brother and an aging, feisty father and you can already see the handfuls of responsibility that he is already barely dealing with.
Shame then, that he is about to lose his job and all of the pseudo-security that comes with it…
When the terrible day arrives and the full gravity of his new found unemployment hits him squarely in the face, he gets a call on his mobile phone, offering him a deal. If he is able to carry out thirteen requests given by this mysterious voice on the other end of the line, then he will be rich beyond his wildest dreams. How the person on the other end of the line knows everything about him, all the time, is one question that both he and the audience are forced to ponder, but for the moment, he has a decision to make. Swat the fly, buzzing around his head and then eat it, or simply hang up?
Risk versus reward makes this a bit of a no-brainer and so our hero starts down a path that we already all know is going to get a lot more difficult, both morally and physically, as time goes on. Given thirty-six hours to complete all of the challenges that he receives only when he has completed the previous one, the adventures he has agreed to undertake come thick and fast, becoming, as you would expect, more risky as the rewards get bigger.
The voice providing the challenges must be commended for having a sadistic streak and not least a sense of humour (“you have five minutes to bring a child to tears”, being one such example) as the moral dilemmas escalate with each new challenge. This is a good yardstick for the audience too, which is one of the reasons the film is compelling at all. You might well find yourself checking for just how far you would go on this avaricious pursuit of ugly and selfish greed. As a work of art, 13 Sins is lacking, however. It is far from subtle in its approach and often, you wonder if given an hour with a pencil and a couple of sheets of A4, you couldn’t come up with maybe some more imaginative challenges.
By the end of its ninety minute running time, you’ll will have rarely been bored by the show, but your faith in human nature will not have increased. As a beacon of human weakness when presented with ‘the easy option’, it is a valuable lesson for many. The end may surprise you, as there are enough twists and turns to keep you guessing as our lead exhibits some very believable polarising reactions to what he is asked to do. Webber’s performance is very convincing, although sometimes the script does leave a little to be desired.
Altogether, a very watchable surprise, with the bonus of Hellboy himself, Ron Perlman, playing the cop who is always one or two steps behind our lead. Often fun, often morally uncomfortable, but interesting enough throughout to maintain its audience interest levels. And for a mere five million dollars, this is more proof should you need it, that you don’t need a superhero, or a superhero budget, to make an average film.
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