Tuesday 26 January 2016

THE FEAR OF 13 DVD review

After 20 years on death row protesting his innocence, convicted murderer Nicholas Yarris asked for all ongoing appeals to be cancelled and the conclusion of his sentence be carried out. David Sington's The Fear of 13 asks what lead him to make this decision.

The true crime genre is undergoing a real resurgence of late, thanks in no small part to the success of the Serial podcast and The Jinx and Making a Murderer TV series. And whilst it's great that this fantastic documentary might be enjoyed by a wider audience because of that, it's really something differently entirely. There's no archive footage or parade of talking heads to shed light on how a 21 year old car thief ended up on death row for the kidnap, rape and murder of a young woman; this is a one man show from start to finish.

Owing a debt to Errol Morris's The Thin Blue Line, there is no armchair sleuthery required for The Fear of 13, just a necessity to allow this man to tell his story in a way that only he can. Luckily Yarris is such an eloquent, informative and articulate speaker that I would expect him to have almost any audience hanging off his every word.

His candour about his criminal past may cause you to ask questions about the case that put him on death row, but this is also his chance to answer those questions for you, something that as a natural storyteller he clearly relishes. Yarris is an immediately likeable presence on screen, and although details of his past (admitted) crimes may temper that somewhat, other details make him all the more admirable and his actions more understandable. It helps that he's an inherently interesting person to look at. With his buttoned down shirt he looks like any normal middle aged father arriving home after a day at work, but then you notice the crevice of a deep scar on his chin that suggests a darker, more violent past.

He has perfected his tale over many years of retelling it, adding heartbreaking details about his life in and out of prison. Listening to him recount the tale of his brief time on the run is thrilling stuff and it's at times like these when the choice to include dramatic reconstructions really benefits the film. Without a doubt there is an element of performance on the part of Yarris, his monologue embellished with an almost tangible physicality, and director David Sington has chosen wisely when to add sound effects or visual echoes and when to simply move the camera in closer to watch the man speak.

Blessed with an unpredictable true story and a narrator who will have you transfixed as you question what you can or can't believe, The Fear of 13 is a completely gripping experience.


DVD extras include an interview between Nick Yarris and director David Sington and critic Danny Leigh.

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