THE FEAR OF 13 (UK/TBC/96mins)
Directed by David Sington. Starring Nick Yarris.
THE PLOT: Convicted murderer Nick Yarris reflects ob his life, his time in prison, and the one flawed decision that led to him spending almost two decades on Death Row, and his reasons for asking, in August 2002, for his sentence to be carried out.
THE PLOT: ‘The Fear of 13’, so named for Triskaidekaphobia; one of the many words that the self educated Yarris taught himself in prison, is a strange sort of film in that it doesn’t immediately begin with the actual reason for the film. Instead, ‘The Fear of 13’ allows Yarris to tell his stories of being incarcerated at the age of 20, of not being allowed to talk for two years until two fearless inmates started singing one night, of falling in love, before actually getting to the reason the film exists; Nick Yarris maintained his innocence for the entire time he was on Death Row.
The film almost unfolds in reverse, with the interesting prison stories coming first, before the tale of the murder and rash decision that landed Yarris in jail, and finally the telling of an event that gives the audience an understanding of how Yarris’ life went so far off the rails. Yarris is an engaging and colourful storyteller, with sound and images being added to his tales – which have been independently verified – for added impact.
Director David Sington has a history of documentary filmmaking, and the story that he pulls out of ‘The Fear of 13’ is an engaging and fascinating one. The film struggles slightly under its attempt to tell the story in reverse, and although Yarris is an engaging storyteller with an incredible tale to tell – he was eventually acquitted of murder, thanks to DNA testing – this is a story we have heard before, not least in the case of Damien Echols of the West Memphis Three who was released from prison in 2011.
In all, ‘The Fear of 13’ is an inspiring story of a man who spent his life slowly trying to claw his way out of a hole he dug for himself. Nick Yarris is an interesting subject and an engaging storyteller, but there is the feeling – not to diminish what Yarris went through – that we have heard this story before, clever editing and all.
RATING: 3.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

The Fear of 13
Review by Brogen Hayes
3.5Familiar but strong
  • filmbuff2011

    The Fear Of 13 is a probing, angry but powerful true-life docu-drama about one man’s fight for redemption. It’s told mostly in monologue by convicted Death Row prisoner Nick Yarris. He at first relates his own tragic story of misspent youth in Pennsylvania. From a broken home, he robbed cars and developed a drug habit. His luck ran out in 1980 when he was caught assaulting and attempting to kill a police officer who pulled him over in a stolen vehicle. The whole case is thrown out against him, due to unreliable testimony from the officer in question. But a much more serious crime is charged against him: the brutal stabbing and murder of a woman whom he seems to know a lot about. He’s convicted by a jury and sentenced to death. As the years pass by in jail, he educates himself and learns how to read and write. He is no longer addicted to drugs, but addicted to books. He devours them. He has nothing but time now, far too much of it, it seems. With his condition deteriorating over time, he petitions the judge on his case to carry out a condemned man’s only real right – to die by execution. But there may be a glimmer of light at the end of this very dark tunnel… The Fear Of 13 is a reference to the condition known as Triskaidekaphobia, a word that Yarris taught himself in prison. But it also could be called The Fear Of Redemption. Is Yarris a man worth saving from lethal injection? Director David Sington has found himself a truly remarkable story and an immediately engaging character in Nick Yarris. Carefully edited, it’s a slow-reveal story. At first, why should we have sympathy for this man? After all, he was convicted of a brutal crime. As Sington unpeels each layer of Yarris’ story, it becomes deeper, more involving and more shocking. To say anymore would be to reveal its many twists and turns. What can be said though is that Yarris holds the screen with a vice-like grip. A soft-spoken man who uses his body as much as his voice to tell his story, his anger is palpable throughout. But what also comes through is his determination to keep himself going in the harsh environment of a Quaker-designed Pennsylvania prison, where brutality from prison guards are more common than acts of sympathy. An exception is a story involving a prison shower and a chair – perhaps the film’s most revealing moment. There’s material here for a feature film, possibly starring someone like Tom Hardy. But there’s an immediacy to the docu-drama form that makes it leap off the screen and also makes you think about whether the American justice system is fit for purpose. For anyone interested in true crime, this is essential viewing. ****