Horror fans may, and should, remember Daniel Stamm for the estimable The Last Exorcism (2010), one of the very few “found footage” exercises in horror that actually works and has merit beyond the hook of its approach. (And, no, he is no way culpable for the ill-advised sequel from last year.) He returns now as director and co-writer with 13 Sins, a movie that both Stamm and the distributors prefer to think of more as a thriller than a horror picture. I can see that, and I respect it, but it’s hard to overlook the fact that its central premise is of the fantasticated variety and is more supernatural in nature than anything else. 13 Sins is a horror thriller of unusual complexity. It is also blessed with some of the blackest humor I’ve seen in a while. That it cannot quite sustain its complexity all the way to the end does nothing to negate what comes before. It helps that 13 Sins is a movie with something on its mind and that it boasts a certain moral complexity.
Elliot (Mark Webber) is a man who is up against it. He loses his job, has a needy invalid father (Tom Bower), a mentally disabled brother (Devon Graye) and a pregnant fiancee (Rutina Wesley). His luck appears to change when he receives a mysterious call on his cellphone. A voice lures him into a game (referred to throughout as “The Game”) that will result in a million dollars if he can complete 13 tasks. These, of course, start off innocently and become less innocent — and more unsavory and sometimes gorier — as The Game proceeds. (An opening sequence with someone we soon realize is another player sets the tone for just how nasty this will get.) The tasks are often weird and unpredictable but sufficiently unpalatable to attract police attention. Some are disturbing. Some are amusingly macabre. (A sequence that involves taking a suicide victim out for a cup of coffee is definitely a highlight of the latter.) What makes it really work, however, is the way in which the desperate Elliot increasingly loses his grasp on morality. One could say that we’re watching a man lose his soul to greed.
There is more going on, including Elliot’s growing understanding of the complexity of what’s happening and how far it reaches, but it’s unfair to discuss it here. It should be noted, though, that there are nice turns from Ron Perlman as an increasingly suspect police detective and Pruitt Taylor Vince as a conspiracy theorist who may have uncovered the secret of The Game. Also, Daniel Stamm has grown more polished and more stylish since The Last Exorcism. As noted previously, the ending is a bit lacking, but it doesn’t dispel the film’s mood. Viewers take note: This is being booked on a split bill and is not expected to play more than one week. It’s worth making the effort to catch it. Rated R for violence, bloody images and language.
Starts Friday at Carolina Cinemas.