The Fear of 13
The death penalty is still surprisingly present throughout the globe, which makes The Fear of 13 relevant, thought-provoking and important. The film tells the true story of a condemned man, Nick, who petitioned a judge to carry out his sentence after spending over two decades on death row.
Nick’s story is a harrowing, Foucauldian nightmare, particularly in its earlier stages, which explore the first years of his incarceration. As a death row inmate, solitary confinement came as a given, since the imposition of silence forms a vital part of the punishment – in the welcoming words of Nick’s Pennsylvania prison warden: “Dead men don’t talk in my prison”. The film quietly enters into debate between separate and congregate penal systems through its Pennsylvanian, Quaker-based locus, exploring the torture of solitude through a combination of Nick’s first-hand account and visual and audio recreations.
However, The Fear of 13 has more than political significance, with British director David Sington giving a masterclass in the art of storytelling. The stage belongs to protagonist Nick, who recounts his life in an emotional monologue with dramatic inserts woven into the tale; this is part documentary, part psychological thriller, with a bit of romance thrown into the bargain. The mystery develops in drips and drabs and it’s a long way into the narrative before Nick asserts his innocence, but in such a way that it’s impossible to know how far we can trust him.
The pace is unhurried, clashing with the tension of the subject matter, and allows Nick to spin his web leisurely. At times the convicted murder appears raw, unassuming and forthright, at others artful and contrived. The film is gripping, repeatedly reaching towards salvation, collapsing with dashed hopes, and ending with a revelatory flourish.
Nick’s story is one that deserves to be told, and Sington’s film deserves to be seen. The Fear of 13 is clever and compelling and provocative, with the potential to truly get under the viewers’ skin and change the way they view liberty and justice.
The Fear of 13 is released in selected cinemas on 15th November 2015.
Watch the trailer for The Fear of 13 here: