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Film review: The Sinners

by
19 March 2021

Stephen Brown reviews ‘a story about sin’

A still from The Sinners

A still from The Sinners

PRESS notes set Courtney Paige’s The Sinners (Cert. 15) in a Roman Catholic high school. On the contrary, this is small-town Canada and definitely down among “Bible-believing Christians”. The only lessons that students seem to have are Religious Education. Scriptural texts abound, albeit rather sloppily.

We soon get the idea that this hothouse will foment adolescent breakout. Seven girls form a clique, known as The Sinners. Each supposedly personifies a deadly vice, although there is little on show to support it. These teenagers are given one line early on to define which sin they represent and why. Katie (Keilani Elizabeth Rose) has a flashy car, thanks to rich parents, hence classifying herself as Greed.

Other characters are as vaguely drawn, making it hard to remember their particular penchant for evil. The group’s ringleader, Grace (Kaitlyn Bernard), is daughter of a fervent local pastor and identified as Lust. This is despite resisting the sexual advances of her boyfriend. Later, she settles down with Wrath (Brenna Coates playing Tori) as if that confirmed her nomenclature.

The oppressive God whom her father proclaims drives Grace in another direction. She also learns from him that one of their cult, disturbed by its behaviour, visited him and spilled the beans. Suspicion immediately falls on Aubrey (Brenna Llewellyn), who, for some reason, is linked to Pride. Perhaps it is because she’s the most studiously devout of them all.

At the beginning of the film, we hear her voice. “This is a story about sin. This is how my body ended up at the bottom of a lake.” Thus does the movie assert its belief in life after death — which is just as well; for murder most foul befalls “sinner” after “sinner”. Under the guise of a Bible-study meeting, the six contrive to scare Aubrey into future silence. This maltreatment gets badly out of hand.

In this genre, things inevitably reach a tragic climax. The storyline, however, includes some clumsy misdirection and continuity when characters may as well have had head transplants since their last appearance, such is the break with their previous personalities. That, combined with dubious biblical exegesis, in which forgiveness, hope, and righteousness remain absent, stretches credibility to breaking-point.

The Sinners is not in the same league as Lord of the Flies, in which, left to their own devices, young people fall from grace. Unlike Ralph in William Golding’s story, nobody weeps “for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart”; nor, despite the maker’s comparison claims, does The Sinners pack the punch of The Craft (1996) or David Fincher’s 1995 thriller Se7en.

If missing the mark defines sin, then this film embodies that. Instead of fastening on the seven deadly sins, this film might have had more luck with the heavenly virtues.
 

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