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13 Sins: a commentary on modern society’s reward system
It is a remake of a Thai film called 13 Beloved and if you've seen the 1997 Michael Douglas starrer The Game, it's easy to dismiss the plot 13 Sins as non-original and not worth watching. But IT IS worth watching if only to prove that 1) an obviously low-budget film with no big name stars can be engaging and 2) a horror / thriller film can be more provocative beyond the usual scream-inciting scenes and the cringe-worthy gore.
A few spoilers ahead.
Eliot, star insurance salesman, gets fired for imposing ethical standards on how he sold insurance policies. The situation is problematic as he and fiancee are expecting a child and about to get married. He also supports his mentally-challenged brother and father.
Eliot receives a mysterious call inviting him to participate in a game that consists of 13 challenges. With every challenge hurdled, a cash prize is deposited to his bank account. If he successfully completes all 13 challenges, he will be a multi-millionaire.
The first challenge is simple enough -- swat a fly buzzing inside his car. After swatting the fly against the car window, Eliot receives a text message that a thousand dollars had been deposited to his bank account. The second challenge, eating the dead fly, has Eliot re-thinking his continued participation in the game but because the cash prize gets bigger with every challenge, he decides to go on playing.
The challenges become more ethically questionable and dangerous as the game progresses... Make a child cry, steal a manger scene inside a church and set it to fire, haul a dead man's body to a coffee shop and order black coffee for him, cut off a man's hand... Eliot is ready to quit by the time he finds out that the final challenge is to kill a family member but is shocked to learn that his father had played the same game years ago (resulting in his mother's death) and that his mentally-challenged brother is in the game too.
13 Sins is a heart-pounding thriller. By the time the film ended, I felt emotionally exhausted. But then came another dimension of meaning to the story. And it wasn't like I had to discover it myself. It was pointedly discussed in the movie, in a passing way, and all I had to do was follow the trail.
The first question is how much of what we do everyday is actually dictated? The 13 challenges in 13 Sins follow a clear reward system -- complete challenge one and you're rewarded, you move to challenge two and the reward is bigger, and so on, and so forth. That is exactly how we function in society. It is certainly true with education -- complete elementary education and you move to high school and on to college and the chance to land a good paying job. And it is just as true in the work system -- do good with your first job and you'll get a promotion with higher pay, do good in that and you climb higher and higher in the corporate world with all the appurtenant rewards.
The second question is how much of our moral values do we surrender in order to move up in life? How willing are we to be cruel to other people (played out in the film as making a child cry and cutting off a man's hand), to commit humiliating acts (eating a dead fly), to take ridiculous risks (carrying a corpse to a coffee shop) or even to expose our loved ones to bodily harm in order to get our hands on those millions that will set us up for life?
13 Sins may be categorized as a thriller / horror film but if the viewer cares to go beyond the suspense and the occasional gore, it is more philosophical and thought-provoking than a lot of other films that try so hard at profoundness and fail miserably.