They say money is the root of all evil. I’m not sure about all (I don’t recall Michael or Jason having a financial motive), but it’s certainly at the heart of a lot of horror. One of the best recent examples is E.L. Katz’s CHEAP THRILLS, a dark comic thriller about a down-on-his-luck everyman who’s seduced into ever-more depraved and despicable acts by the lure of cold hard cash. Gripping and amusing (as long as you have a macabre sense of humour), it demonstrates a level of sophistication not usually found in such sensational fare. Less sophisticated, although very much on the same dramatic track, is co-writer/director Daniel Stamm’s 13 SINS. Stamm has a decent track record in the genre (his last outing was 2010’s above-average found footage satantic shocker THE LAST EXORCISM), and 13 SINS, while no CHEAP THRILLS, continues the director’s winning streak. It’s outlandish and wildly over-the-top, but in terms of sheer entertainment value it delivers in spades.
In the broadest sense, 13 SINS’ plot is identical to CHEAP THRILLS’. This time the everyman is Elliot (Mark Webber), and the emotional stakes are raised by a pregnant wife who is anticipating a lavish wedding, a disabled brother in need of expensive residential care, and a racist father who’s about to be kicked out of his care home. On top of which, Elliot has just been fired from his job for being too nice. When the opportunity arrives to make some easy money, it’s no surprise that he jumps at it. Like most things in horror movies (and real life) that seem too good to be true, however, it is too good, and Elliot is seduced into committing increasingly heinous acts in order to swell his bank account. Will he compromise his moral code and surrender to the Dark Side? And just how far does the conspiracy go?
If there’s one thing 13 SINS doesn’t lack it’s ambition (it manages to incorporate an Illuminati-like cabal of über-rich psychos and the Kennedy assassination into its web of intrigue). It’s all complete nonsense, but at least Stamm knows it’s nonsense, and for all his outrageous digressions he keeps the focus on Elliot. He doesn’t overplay the nice guy element, meaning Elliot is likeable without being saccharine, and succeeds in eliciting our sympathies (Webber’s nuanced performance helps). Stamm doesn’t skimp on the gore as the ‘sins’ become progressively more appalling, and the succession of final twists, while as implausible as everything else, at least come as genuine surprises.
TRUE BLOOD’s Rutina Wesley, as Elliot’s wife Shelby, is wasted in a role barely more developed than that of the family dog. Worse, there are no female roles of any substance in the entire film, and Ron Perlman’s extended cameo also needs developing. Despite a dalliance with cliché (and a love affair with histrionics), the script is serviceable, and there’s enough going on to fill two lesser thrillers. 13 SINS may stretch credulity to breaking point (and beyond), but it’s certainly not boring.