THE SINNERS movie poster | ©2021 Brainstorm Media

THE SINNERS movie poster | ©2021 Brainstorm Media

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Kaitlin Bernard, Brenna Llewellyn, Brenna Coates, Aleks Paunovic, Tahmoh Penikett, Lochlyn Munro, Michael Eklund, Keilani Rose, Jasmine Randhawa, Natalie Malaika, Carly Fawcett, Jerry Trimble, Loretta Walsh, James Neate, Elysia Rotaru, Dylan Playfair, Jen Araki
Writers: Courtney Paige & Erin Hazlehurst & Madison Smith, story by Courtney Paige
Director: Courtney Paige
Distributor: Brainstorm Media
Release Date: February 19, 2021

THE SINNERS is one of those movies where the direction is better than the acting. Debuting feature director Courtney Paige creates beautiful, rich images, and gets good performances from her cast. The script she wrote with Erin Hazlehurst & Madison Smith clearly has something it wants to say, but the message is alternately too blunt and too blurry to have impact.

Our narrator, Christian high school senior Aubrey Miller (Brenna Llewellyn), begins by telling us, “This isn’t a story about truth, or love. This story is about sin.” This would imply that we’re being set up for a story with a lot of twists. It has a couple, but they don’t land with enough impact to qualify as the kind of misdirection that “this isn’t a story about truth …” suggests.

As for being “about sin,” THE SINNERS gamely tries to get us to question our definitions of the topic. The parameters are there, but the strokes are too broad for its points to hit home.

We see Aubrey sitting on the grass, being kidnapped by six figures wearing masks out of THE STRANGERS. Her narration goes on to tell us, “And this is how my body ended up at the bottom of a lake.”

THE SINNERS fulfills this promise by the finale. We flash back to when Aubrey is part of a clique of seven popular young women in her small town’s high school. The group has been dubbed “the Seven Sins” by classmates. None of them are particularly outrageous – Aubrey can quote Bible chapters by heart, and pretty Grace Carver (Kaitlin Bernard) is the daughter of the town’s pastor (Tahmoh Penikett) – but the nickname has stuck. Aubrey can more or less justify each. Hers is Pride, and why not? She’s proud of herself, proud of her faith, proud of her devotion.

Aubrey is also proud of her journal. She unwisely writes down her friends’ secrets. Then “someone” confesses to Reverend Carver about the Sins group. He is furious, and brings the whole thing up at the dinner table to chastise Grace.

This is meant to move the plot along, but instead, it brings us up short. Aubrey tells us that this is a town where the church has completely won its battle over the state. Even so, and even when the church is not Catholic, for a pastor to freely share a confession (one that will obviously cause problems for the parishioner, no less) appears to be a serious breach of religious law.

We wait for this to be a plot point. Is Reverend Carver power-mad? Does Aubrey feel betrayed in retrospect? Does Grace lose all respect for her father because of this? No, it’s just ignored.

Come to that, the school uniforms of the high-schoolers have oddly short skirts for a community where non-church members are referred to as “worldly.” Other oddities follow.

About halfway through, THE SINNERS switches gears from teen angst drama to quasi-slasher horror. There’s also a third act look at the back story of the town sheriff (Aleks Paunovic), which is not well-integrated into the rest of the action.

We’re teased throughout with whether THE SINNERS will have a supernatural aspect, strong social commentary, or at least some way of tying together its diverse elements. We can respect its ambition and its visual artistry, but its unevenness is a drawback.

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