Delving into an unknown world that holds seemingly horrifying tasks at time can be intimating for anyone, but when the ultimate results justify the initially terrifying consequences, the risk is ultimately worth it. Director Daniel Stamm proved that completing those apparently frightening tasks can be rewarding with his latest film, the daring horror thriller ’13 Sins,’ which is now available to rent on Blu-ray at select Long Island Redbox locations. The filmmaker, who also co-wrote the movie’s script with Daniel Birke, creatively set up 13 memorable set pieces and situations that thrived on their own rules and dramatic structure throughout the film. Each sequence, which also thrived on mixing diverse sub-genres, including dark comedy and straight horror, thrived in part because of the risks the story’s relatable protagonist, Elliot Brindle, was willing to take in order to protect his family, despite the potential personal risks involved.
’13 Sins’ follows Elliot (Mark Webber), a bright but down-on-his-luck salesman who has just been unexpectedly fired from his job. The loss of his job comes just days before he’s set to get married, and that he and his fiancée, Shelby (Rutina Wesley), are also expecting a baby. Elliot, who is already in debt, also lost his health insurance when he was fired, which means he can no longer take care of his developmentally disabled brother, Michael (Devon Graye). On top of everything else, his racist father (Tom Bower) has just been evicted, which means he’ll have to move in with Elliot and Shelby, who he continuously targets.
But Elliot’s luck seems to change when he receives a mysterious phone call informing him that he can earn millions of dollars if he carries out 13 tasks. The tasks initially seem harmless enough, as he’s told he’ll be paid if he swats and eats a fly. Although thousands of dollars are suddenly appearing in his bank account, Elliot remains suspicious of the caller’s intentions, but is comforted by the thought that he can stop playing at any time. But in doing so, he’ll lose every penny that he’s won so far, and his acts, which become increasingly illegal with each task, will be reported to the police, including Det. Chilcoat (Ron Perlman), who becomes interested in tracking down the person who’s committing the crimes. Trapped into the horrors manipulated by unseen spectators and crushing debt, Elliot’s need to complete the game escalates as the tasks grow more extreme, to a devastating point of no return.
With the 13 increasingly twisted and unique tasks Elliot is persuaded to complete by the ominous and menacing caller, the horror thriller’s production designer, James A. Gelarden, created powerful and distinct sets that complemented each assignment the protagonist was given. With the help of the keen camera angles cinematographer Zoltan Honti incorporated into every scene, Gelarden powerfully emphasized the hesitance and dismay Elliot felt at completing the illegal and immoral tasks he was given in the seemingly ordinary but meaningful sets. From the calming church where Elliot was ordered to burn a nativity scene, to the dining room where he was pushed to break china during a dinner celebrating his upcoming wedding, to a seemingly ordinary diner where he had to bring a recently deceased man and pretend to eat with him, the clever shots of the struggling protagonist in each seemingly ordinary location amped up the intensity of his questioning of whether he should continue with each task.
Honti, who previously worked with Stamm on the found footage horror film, ‘The Last Exorcism,’ captivatingly brought the raw energy he incorporated in their earlier work together to ’13 Sins.’ The cinematographer brought the natural lighting and hand-held camera styles he used on ‘The Last Exorcism’ to their latest horror collaboration, which helped emphasize the emotional turmoil and conflict Elliot is contending with as he completes each increasingly difficult task.
While the story in ’13 Sins’ becomes increasingly shocking, fun and thrilling with each task Elliot is forced to carry out in order to receive his next payment, the underlying conflicts within his personal life that drive him to carry out each task is just as riveting. One of the main reasons why the audience becomes engaged with, and invested in, Elliot’s struggles is the relatable portrayal Webber gave of his fraught character. The actor alluringly showcased how Elliot is driven to commit each task, no matter how drastic or inconceivable they initially seem to be, as he wants to provide for not only Shelby and their baby, but also his brother and father, despite the emotional conflicts they have with each other. Webber smartly didn’t play Elliot as being overly confident in his ability to complete each task, or not caring about how the consequences of each task would affect the people in his life and town. The character was uniquely always presented with a conscience, and contemplating how each of his actions would affect those around him, even though he desperately needed the money.
The Blu-ray for ’13 Sins’ features several special features that showcase the making of the horror thriller. The bonus material includes a feature audio commentary with Stamm, Webber, Perlman and Graye; an alternative ending; a deleted sequence; The Making of ’13 Sins;’ and ‘Anatomy Of A Breakdown.’
’13 Sins’ is a creative, inventive horror thriller that doesn’t solely rely on riveting visual sequences to terrify audiences; it also smartly incorporates a relatable, relatable backstory for Elliot that smartly explains why he feels compelled to complete each task. Webber gave a captivating performance as the troubled protagonist, whose financial and family struggles drove him to the brink of disaster, and gave him a plausible explanation why he would agree to carry out the immoral and illegal acts, much to his dismay. Combined with the distinct and alluring production design by Gelarden and cinematography by Honti, which also smartly delved into Elliot’s troubles, ’13 Sins’ is a gripping exploration of the extreme measures a person will take in order to protect his family.