The Most Dangerous Game
Elliot Brindle (Mark Webber) is in a bad place. Already riddled with debts and caring for his mentally disabled brother (Devon Graye), Elliot gets fired from his insurance sales job for not being cutthroat enough. With a cranky father (Tom Bower) to house and a baby on the way, things don’t look good. But just when he seems to be out of options, Elliot receives a mysterious call from an anonymous voice who knows all about Elliot’s financial struggles.
Claiming to represent a “unique game show,” the voice offers Elliot increasing sums of money in exchange for performing a series of thirteen tasks, beginning with the innocuous challenge of swatting a fly and moving on to more difficult – and dangerous – assignments. Once Elliot realizes that the money being offered is very real, the voice reveals the full set of rules: if Elliot completes all thirteen challenges, he’ll be rewarded a massive seven-figure sum; but if he fails at any point, he’ll lose all the money he’s won so far. He’ll also be disqualified if he tells anyone about the game.
13 Sins’s main selling point is the titular immoral stunts, and they rarely disappoint. A good mix of humiliating, cruel, and depraved, they deliver the twistedly entertaining spectacle that the movie promises. There’s a warped creativity on display with each progressive challenge; the film rarely opts for obvious Saw-esque sadistic choices, preferring to keep the audience on its toes with a series of curveballs. While most of the sins cause Elliot some form of pain or discomfort, others appeal to his darker instincts, such as one that reunites him with his middle-school bully.
For most of its running time, 13 Sins is more of a stress machine a-la Uncut Gems than a full-blown horror movie. Clearly aware of the absurdity of its premise, its best scenes are both nerve-wracking and morbidly hilarious. It’s not until the midpoint that it takes its first foray into undiluted horror, with a shocking burst of violence that hits hard after the movie’s relatively bloodless first half. By the final act the tone has seamlessly plunged into darkness, with a series of clever twists that keeps things unpredictable right until the ending.
Mark Webber is excellent in the lead, making Elliot believable as both a meek beta-male and (by the end) a morally-corrupted degenerate. Rutina Wesley has less to do as his fiancé, but provides a nice mellow presence to balance out Elliot’s manic energy; her character oblivious to the horrific acts Elliot is committing. The cast is nicely rounded out by Ron Perlman and Pruitt Taylor-Vince, respectively playing the detective on Elliot’s trail and a conspiracy theorist who’s been tracking the so-called “game” for years.
13 Sins eschews credibility at times, often resorting to massive improbabilities and coincidences to whisk Elliot from one task to the next. And though its premise is solidly executed, it’s hardly original; borrowing liberally from Would You Rather, Cheap Thrills, and Falling Down. Still, it’s tough to deny that the movie succeeds in its aims: serving up a lean, mean slice of train-wreck horror.