Daniel Stamm’s 13 Sins is solidly helmed, if expectedly over-reliant on unnecessarily grisly comeuppances that leave nothing to the imagination. Its main character, Elliot (Mark Webber), is put through an escalating psychological ringer as a means to unleash not so much the killer inside him as the petulant troublemaker fed up with his place in an economically uncertain world. A hapless sales rep who’s fired prior to his wedding to his pregnant girlfriend (Rutina Wesley) and who regularly cares for his mentally challenged brother (Devon Graye) and ill, racist father (Tom Bower), he’s consciously set up as a pushover and too ethical for his job; after refusing to needlessly upsell a customer, his boss smugly sends him on his way by calling him less than a man. He’d rather cower in a corner than stand up and shout, and that’s when fate, functioning as a litmus test of Elliot’s self-reliance, literally calls on him by phone. A mysterious benefactor promises an instant bank deposit of a thousand bucks if he kills a fly, and the dead-broke Elliot, feeling as if he’s out of options, obliges. The stakes, as they must, intensify, and Elliot is ultimately offered a grand total of $6.2 million dollars if he completes 13 tasks. It’s his last worst chance.
Initially these tasks are blackly comic, such as Elliot being called on to momentarily recreate Weekend at Bernie’s, before giving way to the pointedly relevant, such as his coming face to face with an old high school bully. This would suggest the game’s overriding point is holding the man up to the mirror, to reflect on what has delivered him to this do-or-die moment. However, a parallel narrative emerges in which Ron Perlman’s severely stoic detective wades through the aftermath of Elliot’s successful sins and becomes symbolic of the film’s resorting to rapid reversals for shock value in lieu of coherently and satisfyingly bringing home its establishing theme of staring down one’s soul. Its concluding coincidences are the artificial conflict that passes for the wrap-up of any game rather than Elliot squaring with his past and present. The twists spur him to the end point, but all meaning becomes lost in the maze.