The Fear of 13

Director: David Sington / Producer: Chris Riley / Executive Producers: Nick Fraser, Anna Godes.

“After 23 years on death row, convicted killer Nick Yarris petitioned for the right to be executed promptly, exasperated by an appeals system that had failed to overturn his conviction. British director David Sington’s gripping documentary gets Yarris to tell his story, while slyly withholding information that leaves us wondering about truth and fiction as it builds towards a dramatic denouement. Yarris is a charismatic speaker, his performance sharpened by jail-bound immersion in literature, refining his narrative skills as he recounts/rewrites the past and future. Not so much an interviewee as a monologuist, Yarris leads us on a labyrinthine journey that has as much to say about the art of storytelling as it does about the iniquities of crime and punishment.” Mark Kermode, The Guardian

The Fear Of 13 couldn’t be simpler, as a seated man tells the viewer the story of his life. Director David Sington (In The Shadow Of The Moon, Thin Ice ) illustrates elements of what is recounted but mostly he keeps the camera on the speaker, shooting against a stark, black  background. It is utterly spellbinding.

The Fear Of 13 is cleverly paced as it allows us to become comfortable with Nick and grow to like him before it provides more information about his life. Revelations arrive like a succession of bombshells as he faces years of raised hopes and dashed expectations over a murder he claims never to have committed. Some of the most shocking revelations are left until the end of the film. As if in recognition that his story is like something from a Dumas novel, we are told early on that everything he tells us has been independently verified.

Sington wisely allows the monologue to unfold with little in the way of distraction. The editing gives proceedings an elegant flow and the images are simple and bold. Water cascading over an empty prison chair or a young child running into the woods underline the poignancy of Nick’s memories rather than toppling over into sentimentality.

Despite all the setbacks and defeats that Nick experienced, The Fear Of 13 is a surprisingly uplifting tale, celebrating his stoicism and salvation with an emotional impact that is hard to resist.” Allan Hunter, Screen Daily

“Sington’s film tells a factual story with the dramatic beats of a fiction film, using an unorthodox yet gripping narrative style that is sure to help it stand out in the upcoming awards season.

It’s hard to go deeply into the film’s appeal without giving away its secrets; suffice to say, the story rests solely on the shoulders of charismatic protagonist Nick, who talks us through the shocking chain of events that brought him the death penalty in 1982, at age 20, in Pennsylvania.” Damon Wise, Variety

“David Sington’s bold and gripping documentary The Fear of 13 begins cloaked in mystery. Sington tips us into his film in the middle of things so that without advance notice we might not know we’re watching a documentary at all. Our only compass points are the words of the narrator Nick Yarris, a wiry, baldheaded figure in shirt sleeves seated against a plain dark backdrop, recounting a day in the life of a US jail.

Slowly, a story begins to take shape… It’s as tersely compelling as crime fiction but with the tang of vérité. This, we realise, is because it’s Yarris’s own story — his real life, unembellished and extraordinary. Writers, who needs them?” Danny Leigh, Financial Times

“For a time director David Sington throws up so many questions, with no answers, that you’re unsure if you’re watching a documentary or a sly facsimile of one. If this is Nick Yarris, has he been granted his wish, with the interview an unlikely opportunity to tell his story before the chair? Has he already been executed, with this an actor portraying him, offering the story of a Death Row inmate’s incarceration? Or is the whole thing a fiction?

Nick delivers his account  with such rehearsed eloquence, dates cunningly withheld, that we remain uneasy, if not suspicious of its veracity. Lingering in the shadows is another question: what was his crime? Then a moment comes when the prison narrative takes a dramatic turn, Sington himself starts to show some of his cards, answers come, emotion brews; it’s now that the film truly becomes gripping.” Demetrious Matheou, Thomson on Hollywood