An ordinary man trades his conscience for cash in “13,” a fleet-footed Faustian suspenser about a sinister Internet gameshow demanding to see the worst of its financially and emotionally vulnerable contestants. Armed with caustic social commentary and less successful stabs at humor, talented 25-year-old helmer Matthew Chookiat Sakveerakul’s third feature references bits of “Falling Down” and cyber-shocker “FeardotCom,” but has its own distinct personality. A modest success in its October domestic release, the pic’s profile has been raised by winning top honors at the PiFan fest and the sale of remake rights to the Weinstein Co.
Based on a comicbook by Eakasit Thairath (who co-scripted), the opening scenes crisply cut the figure of bespectacled 32-year-old Chit (Krissada Sukosol Clapp) as a nobody going nowhere. Lacking the competitive thrust to succeed in selling musical instruments, the loner bottoms out when he loses his job and car on the same day, and is then obliged to fork out cash when his demanding mother calls.
But the next ring on his cellphone is an entirely different proposition. An all-knowing voice is offering the chance to win 100 million baht ($3 million) on an Internet reality show. To claim the jackpot, he must perform 13 tasks in total secrecy, starting with the easy job of swatting a fly. Promised instant cash rewards at each stage, the cautious Chit follows the order and watches as funds duly click into his bank account. Ploy convincingly turns the skeptic into a participant who’s willing to follow up with stealing from a beggar and making children cry in return for fast money.
Such antisocial behavior is just a warm-up for the film’s undoubted talking point, task number 5. Guaranteed to induce squirms and gaze aversion, the scene finds Chit in a fancy restaurant wolfing down a huge plate of what dogs aren’t supposed to leave on the sidewalk.
Vital cog in sweeping viewers along for this disorienting ride into turpitude are flashbacks connecting the tasks with events from Chit’s tortured childhood. Even the most grotesque assignment is carefully crafted to carry something of the little guy fighting back against the system and those who’ve done him wrong.
Playing a tightly wound ball of inner rage, lead thesp Clapp is excellent as the everyman dehumanized by money-worship. In a key role linking the chasm between Chit and the world he’s rapidly departing, actress Achita Sikamana is appealing as loyal friend Tong, who’s attempting to crack the show’s seemingly impenetrable website before it’s too late.
Emphasizing realism throughout, lensing by Chitti Urmorakankij shifts effectively from formality in sterile offices to busier framing and richer tones when action switches to downtown streets and city fringe. Otherwise tightly edited item could have done with letting go of some clunky comic inserts. Rest of the tech package is on the money.