I will say it now: if you watch this film, don’t quit until the 90 minutes have expired. Otherwise you will miss the devilishly clever final twists which are well-foreshadowed. In fact it is textbook screen writing. Fiction writers from all genres should take note – this is how you do it.
However, it’s easy to change channels when watching 13 Sins. The low budget and (at times) pedestrian acting make it unremarkable to the eye, and it’s tempting to go looking for something better. But stick with it, as what 13 Sins lacks in scale and scope it makes up for with suspense and intelligent twists. If you’re very good, you might see it coming. The events of the third act are telegraphed clearly in the first, although you’ll have to be smart to put the pieces together. This is where the film succeeds. Mysteries should always give the viewer a chance to solve the puzzle, and while 13 Sins doesn’t make it easy, you can certainly do it. In fact I’m laughing out loud at myself for not seeing it coming.
That said, 13 Sins is a flawed film. It’s tried to blur the lines between a suspense thriller and horror film. There are some hackneyed horror moments that could have been handled more effectively. A handful of gory scenes were obtuse and unnecessary, and perhaps would have been better if done with more subtlety. This seems to be the fault of the director who is apparently influenced by the style of independent horror-film makers of the 90s and 2000s who don’t understand the value of tension. Gore on its own is ineffective. Horror is equal parts what we see and don’t see. Case study: the original Alien showed us everywhere the creature could be, and in turn revealed them to be empty, letting our minds wander, letting us experience what the terrified characters were feeling. When the ultimate moment comes, it’s done logically, and with nuance and flair. There’s no gore on screen that didn’t need to be there. All horror writers should study this.
The other problem lies with the film’s occasional desire to go beyond it’s limitations and try to establish a grander scale. There’s an “escape” set piece that falls short of competency because they didn’t have the money for good special effects, and it showed. You could have just left it out. An independent film should work around its budget instead of stretching it.
Anyway, out of all the slim pickings of 2014 so far – which is shaping up to be another terrible year for film – this low-budget suspense thriller has actually impressed me. Elliot’s (the protagonist’s) transformation was mostly plausible, aside from a few nonsense moments. It’s sheer intelligence and gripping, relentless pace kept me watching until the bitter end. However, while I have said that the final act is quite good, it is let down by an incompetent epilogue which leaves us with a Downer Ending instead of one which is left open to the audience to interpret.
I recommend it as a rental only, but I DO recommend you see it.
Review by mwburrows