“13: Game of Death” – A.J. Hakari

Saw is often cited for being one of the most intelligent horror movies in recent years, and for good reason. Its sly commentary on human nature, on how far one would go to save their own skin, brought some much-needed smarts to a genre too bogged down in a simplistic, hack-and-slash mentality. The Thai thriller 13: Game of Death takes its cues from the Saw saga. But in addition to putting its lead character through the endurance test of a lifetime, the film expands its reach to include some satirical jabs at what passes for entertainment these days, adding to one of the most disturbing and thematically well-rounded genre pictures in a long time.

 

Meek salesman Chit (Krissada Sukosol) is not having a good day. On top of seeing his car towed away, he’s been involuntarily ousted from his job, thanks in parts to the efforts of an overachieving co-worker. But just when it seems that things can’t get any worse for the poor guy, Chit gets a mysterious phone call telling him that he’s become a part of an Internet game show, and all he has to do to give his bank account a boost is to swat a fly. He does so, and he finds himself a richer man, but the tasks don’t end there. Not only does the number of challenges increase, so does their intensity, as Chit, now trapped in a twisted game getting increasingly out of hand, finds himself going from having to make a bunch of little kids cry to performing the most unspeakable acts in public. But with a 100 million baht prize in sight, Chit must make the choice whether to put an end to the madness or go for the cash, at the cost of his own humanity.

 

With TV shows like “Fear Factor” and “A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila” gaining puzzling amounts of popularity, it’s no wonder that something like 13: Game of Death ended up coming along. These programs have earned the attention (or, perhaps, morbid curiosity) of audiences by featuring their participants engaging in the sort of grotesque acts that Caligula would blush at. The huge ratings these shows have received are no doubt more as a result of shock value than of true interest in the people featured on them, and it’s this world that 13: Game of Death uses as its backdrop. Don’t expect to be walloped with satire and symbolism, though, for the filmmakers have wisely chosen to keep those tuning into Chit’s trials in the background, instead focusing on Chit’s much meatier and more manageable psyche. What we have here is a man who convincingly progresses from a sympathetic sadsack into a misguided monster; Chit’s not entirely likable, since he can easily stop the game at any time he wants, but you’re nevertheless compelled to follow him to see if he’ll completely abandon his morals by the time the credits roll.

 

As Chit is 13: Game of Death’s primary player, present in pretty much every single scene, it takes a balancing act of a performance to nail the character just right. Fortunately, Sukosol does just that, playing up both Chit’s weaknesses and the hints of ugliness that emerge as he presses onward in the game. This doesn’t leave much room for other characters, though. Achita Sikamana has a few good moments as one of Chit’s co-workers, who senses that his strange behavior is being driven by an outside force, but aside from that, the most prominent character is a detective who gets about a minute of combined screen time that could’ve been easily excised from the film. Plus, while compellingly building the story up and having the audience’s complete attention for a good hour and a half, the filmmakers really fumble the ball in the film’s final minutes. The explanation behind who’s running the game is a perplexing disappointment, and there’s a final nail in the coffin that offers up an interesting twist that offers more of a cheap surprise than it does the amount of thematic depth it thinks it does.

 

13: Game of Death may not completely shock those who yawned at what the likes of Saw and Hostel had to offer in terms of grue and gore. But for those disappointed by a lack of intelligence in the horror flicks they’ve seen, 13: Game of Death offers the chance to engage your brain and test your gag reflex in one fell swoop.

 

Rating: ★★★☆

 

-A.J. Hakari

 

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

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