The spectre of execution is ever-present throughout The Fear of 13, the chilling but surprisingly uplifting story of a man who spent half a lifetime spent behind bars, condemned to the die by electric chair in a Pennsylvania prison.
Prisoner Nick Yarris is the film's sole subject – and narrator – and the action on screen is simple to the extreme. Sington's film consists almost wholly of Yarris speaking directly to the camera, interspersed occasionally with dramatisations of his own shocking narrative.
There is no obvious interviewer, and no other talking heads. This is Yarris story, and his alone, and Sington's film manages to pull of the incredible feat of one subject utterly commanding the screen for its entire ninety-minute runtime.
And what a subject: in haunting and incredibly expressive detail, Yarris explains how he came to be condemned to death for murder, despite his claims of innocence, and how, after twenty-three long years on death row, he eventually petitioned for the courts to grant him the rights to his own execution.
The sequence of events as Yarris relates them is incredible, with the story following a complex thread from addiction to grand larceny, rape, murder, corruption, escape to recapture, love, marriage and finally, separation. But ultimately it is the storytelling, and the storyteller, that truly make Sington's film so memorable.
Nick Yarris is mesmerising as the subject, his raw emotion palpable. His sheer eloquence is astonishing: a product of his 'addiction' — as he puts it — to reading, a habit that he picked up after many long and lonely years in prison.
Yarris is, in fact, so compelling to watch that the intermittent stylised dramatisations of his story sometimes feel like an unnecessary diversion from Sington's film. The narrative is well-paced, thanks in part to Yarris' elocution, and the film slowly reveals new information that keeps its audience guessing right until the end.
But The Fear of 13 is no whodunnit, nor hagiography: Sington's film is an intricate and affecting true story – all independently verified, we're assured at the start. Sington shows us, in Yarris, a man who found himself in an unspeakably horrifying situation, and leaves him to explain, with composure and a remarkable lack of bitterness, how he was able to cope.
A shocking tale of resilience and the power of education – this film will leave you moved, disturbed, and utterly exhilarated.
|What||Fear of 13 film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
13 Nov 15 – 13 Dec 15, times vary
|Price||£determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here to go the film's IMDB page|