We are so tired of being good little girls.

There being a great deal of coming-of-age stories about religious folks critically questioning their own indoctrination has to mean something. Those having grown up in a secular home may not fully know the ins and outs of that specific situation, but the impact of big change is universal. Going into Courtney Paige’s movie The Sinners, we see the core characters doubting their spiritual upbringings and stepping out of their comfort zones. What follows next, though, can only be seen as the work of the Devil.

Paige’s debut feature is set in a small, pious Canadian community; the main character Grace (Kaitlyn Bernard) attends Catholic school and her father is a well-liked pastor. Along with her friends, Grace is dubbed one of The Sinners by their fearful and judgmental peers. This convenient nickname, having to do with each of the seven girls’ most obvious and sinful traits, affords the clique some notoriety at school, but their parents aren’t remotely pleased.

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“…the movie dramatically shifts into a crime procedural format that doesn’t feel entirely out of place, yet it’s not as interesting as the initial premise, either.”

 

When Grace‘s father (Tahmoh Penikett) cracks down on his daughter’s “bad” behavior, she seeks out whoever tattled her business to him. Suspicion leads to targeting the movie’s narrator and the Sinners‘ very own “Pride,” Aubrey (Brenna Llewellyn), a devout girl whose place in the group of rebels is already odd. To get back at Aubrey, the others then play a cruel prank on her that accidentally ends with her disappearance and possible death. But, Grace and her friends aren’t the guilty party — so who is?

The movie’s poster prominently features the characters in black and wearing creepy masks, but viewers shouldn’t be fooled into thinking this will be a revenge flick or even a teen slasher with some Purge-style violence thrown in. After Grace and her pals essentially kick Aubrey out of the gang, the movie drops its curious story of kittenish Catholic schoolgirls shirking their societal shackles and leans into something far more mundane.

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The Sinners Brenna Llewellyn

 

With the saintly Aubrey missing, the movie dramatically shifts into a crime procedural format that doesn’t feel entirely out of place, yet it’s not as interesting as the initial premise, either. It reads like a deviation of a plot that’s become routine in modern teen noirs and mysteries like Pretty Little Liars and Riverdale. The more pressing slight is abandoning the potential to study The Sinners as they embrace the depravity they’ve been taught to fear. Rather, they’re turned into victims waiting to be picked off by the unknown killer. Even Grace herself regresses after having an empowering moment that could have been better explored.

Of all The Sinners, Grace is the only one afforded a glimpse into her home life. Her father is a condemnatory man who would likely prefer to use the back of his hand to deal with his wild child rather than actually talk to her. Her sister is supportive enough, but her brother is just as repulsive as their father. The groundwork is there for a substantial consideration of a teen girl whose faith is shaken and wading, then pushed to her limit before committing a heinous act. It’s unfortunate the presumed story here never gets the attention it deserves. Regardless of the plot shift that mainly disappoints because of personal expectations, we can only judge what the director and writer did focus on.

 

The Sinners Kaitlyn Bernard

 

The authorities do much of the heavy lifting from here on out while Grace and her remaining friends shrink in personality and await their fates. As in any other scripted drama involving an at-large killer, there’s a twist that is perhaps too old hat. What’s truly interesting, and while it may not have been the intention, the events herein come off more like a cautionary tale to return lost sheep back to their rightful herd. In contrast, Courtney Paige’s first movie shows she has an eye for visual detail; certain imagery approaches the spirit of giallo. You also get a sense of reverence for David Fincher’s patent sort of moodiness on top of clear esteem for nostalgic teen thrillers like The Craft.

The missed opportunity for a different and maybe more potent story is hard to look past, but that is maybe the movie’s greatest sin.

 

“Courtney Paige’s first movie shows she has an eye for visual detail; certain imagery approaches the spirit of giallo.”

 

The Sinner is available on-demand on February 19. Share your thoughts on the movie with the Nightmare on Film Street community on Twitter, in our Official Subreddit, or in the Fiend Club Facebook Group!

 

The Sinners Poster