A shocker of a film for all the wrong reasons, 13 Hrs is an example of just how boring horror can be.
Having its world premiere at this weekend’s FrightFest, the main advertising angle for 13 Hrs is that it’s from the producers of Dog Soldiers and while that is true – producers Tom Reeve and Romain Schroeder were producer and executive producer respectively of Neil Marshall’s cracking horror – all that advertising angle serves to do is to show where the true talent lay with Dog Soldiers. Clichéd, riddled with bad acting and an atrocious climax, 13 Hrs doesn’t even get to the ‘so bad, it’s good’ stage but skips that and goes straight to the ‘so bad, it’s painful’ stage and rarely rises above it.
The set-up is intriguing as Sarah (Isabella Calthorpe) returns to her family home after being away forging a career in the US. She spends the evening in the barn with members of her family and friends, including her former best friend Emily (Gemma Atkinson) and step-brother Stephen (Peter Gadiot), until a storm knocks out all their power forcing them to retreat back into the house. Back inside though, they make a gruesome discovery and find themselves having to survive the night while being hunted down by an unseen foe.
So far, so standard but it’s in its execution where 13 Hrs transforms from a promising horror flick into the kind of film where the only horrifying thing is the realisation of how long you’ve got left to endure, even with its relatively brief running time. Everything is just so unimaginative and follows horror conventions so stridently that the film struggles to find its own voice and ends up feeling like a tired rehash of a combination of films before it; there are ways you can make the old and clichéd feel fresh, often helped by having a self-referential tongue-in-cheek element, but 13 Hrs plays it so straight-faced that it just comes across more of a rip-off than homage.
There are attempts to keep the audience on edge and an early offing of one of the more recognisable faces among the young cast initially adds a sense of doubt to who might survive but then everything becomes conventional again, right down to the annoying, hateful character surviving longer than anyone when they’re the one you really want to die horribly. Therein lies another major problem: the deaths just aren’t inventive enough. Barring one fantastic shock death in the vein of the bus death from the original Final Destination right down to the pre-death punch line, the rest are dull and uninspired. The deaths even generally occur off-screen, perhaps a sign of budgetary constraints, but when you’re making a film about a bunch of people being hunted, surely crafting memorable deaths is first on the agenda?
You won’t find any high points in the acting stakes as the majority of the cast find themselves guilty of some atrocious over-acting with Gabriel Thomson (from TV’s My Family) being the worst offender and that takes some effort. Acting has seemingly become less and less of a concern for modern horror films but you should at least be able to expect competent acting and while Isabella Calthorpe gamely tries to keep the film afloat, even she succumbs to over-acting come the laughable climax.
A final nail in the coffin for 13 Hrs, and arguably its biggest flaw, is that it’s just not scary and never finds itself even remotely suspenseful. Director Jonathan Glendening makes a strong decision in not revealing the creature until he has to but while that adds a welcome sense of mystery to the overall proceedings, the formulaic chase scenes and the seeming ease with which the group seem to get away from the creature just rob the film of any tension and suspense built up by the ambiguity of the creature. It’s all compounded by one scene which evokes the claustrophobic brilliance of another of Marshall’s efforts – The Descent – which only serves to highlight the inadequacies of the horror elements of 13 Hrs.
If you’re still awake by the ending, 13 Hrs valiantly tries one last time to shock you with a twist that reveals the secret of the creature but, in keeping with the disappointment that has preceded it, the twist is so obvious that it’s strangely fitting for the film which clearly didn’t deserve a Saw-esque shocker of an ending. Apparently 13 Hrs is going on a limited theatrical run after its premiere at FrightFest…don’t be surprised to see it in DVD bargain bins by Halloween.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum