The Sinners

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Sinners
"A weighty legacy of films about dead girls has informed this film and shaped its imagery." | Photo: Courtesy of FrightFest

A high school clique. Glamour, exclusivity, bad reputations. Artfully arranged dead girls with roses pressed between their lips. The Sinners plays the part so well that you'd be forgiven for thinking it was just more of the usual, but this is Courtney Paige's film, and she's taking it somewhere very different.

One of the opening night selections for Frightfest's October 2020 edition, this is the story of a group of girls who don't so much choose to form a clique as get pushed into one, being labelled sinners because they don't share the values held by most people in their Evangelical Christian town (though one remains keen to point out "We're not atheists!"). Taking ownership of the slur, they decide that each of them will embody one of the Deadly Sins, though only Wrath (Brenna Coates) seems committed to it full time. Lust (Kaitlyn Bernard) is a pastor's daughter and can be accused of sin for so much as speaking to a boy, though she'd probably be in more trouble if her family knew that it's Wrath she has a thing for. Then there's Pride (Brenna Llewellyn), who never quite fits in - and she's of course, is our narrator.

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Teenage pranks, hazings and tests of loyalty only hold the attention for so long. The girls themselves are bored, frustrated by the limits of their small town world. When one of them goes missing, their mundane lives acquire sudden meaning. At school, someone has made a list of the sins on a desk, with one scored out. Soon another has been scored out too, and real fear grips the town.

Ultimately less interested in the mystery behind all this than she is in the girls' emotional journeys and the social impact of the killings, Paige presents us with numerous little vignettes built around peripheral characters. In the process she teases out the prejudices and odd suspicions that the girls themselves, as well as the more conventional townsfolk, hold. She also introduces comedic elements, using absurdist humour as a means of highlighting the larger absurdities surrounding her heroines' lives. There's a delightful supporting performance from Aleks Paunovic as the local sheriff, who has big things going on in his own life in the background.

A weighty legacy of films about dead girls has informed this film and shaped its imagery. Beneath the whimsical surface, a quiet rage is bubbling, and even as she draws upon it, Paige has no sympathy for the romanticisation of such killings. Her protagonists are not sins or tragic icons, they are people. Murder is not a sophisticated form of judgement or salvation but the work of an immature mind. There's nothing special about ending up at the bottom of a lake.

A story about teenagers trying to make moral sense of a confusing world without simply trusting to received wisdom, The Sinners is a film in which generations' worth of cinema's dead girls talk back.

Reviewed on: 22 Oct 2020
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An A-List Girl clique starts a secret cult where each of them must embody one of the seven deadly sins. They realise there's more to their small religious town when they start to go missing one by one.

Director: Courtney Paige

Writer: Erin Hazlehurst, Courtney Paige

Starring: Kaitlyn Bernard, Brenna Llewellyn, Brenna Coates, Keilani Elizabbeth Rose, Jasmine Randhawa

Year: 2020

Runtime: 130 minutes

Country: Canada

Festivals:

Frightfest 2020

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