With a large cast, plenty of intersecting storylines, and a heavy dose of religious motifs, The Sinners is a lot to take on for any first feature film. Director and co-writer Courtney Paige does her best to spin all of this into a high school thriller à la Agatha Christie, however the overall experience of watching The Sinners is disjointed and tedious.
The Sinners takes place in a small, religious town at a small, religious high school. The tight black dresses the girls all wear clue us into the fact that this may not be the type of Catholic school we are used to seeing, but as hard as they try to be unique these girls are exactly the type of school girls we are used to seeing. They are cliquey and unkind. They are more focused on their reputation than they are their studies. And to the horror of their classmates and families, they have all embraced sin.
These sins might not be in the way you are thinking, but you are not far off. Each member of this clique of seven embodies one of the seven deadly sins, whether they fit the description or not. Grace (Kaitlyn Bernard) is our part-time narrator and full-time emotional anchor who introduces us to the gang and each of their associated sins. She openly acknowledges that her corresponding sin, lust, is a poor fit for her actual level of promiscuity, but she has fun leaning into the role for attention. When her pastor father finds out about her proud flirtation with sinning, Grace wants to punish the girl who outed their schoolyard shenanigans to the oppressive parent.
The rest of the plot unfolds a bit like And Then There Were None, going through the girls on the sinful roster with deadly consequences. That part of The Sinners is both ambitious and admirable, but the execution of this aspirational plot is where The Sinners stumbles. At first there is a list with names being crossed out, and then we never revisit it. Then we see some leather clad satanists, only to have them uninvolved in anything, really. This is not to say that The Sinners is pulling red herrings left and right, but it is teasing Checkov’s gun. There are plenty of great ideas mashed into the film, but none are developed enough to warrant applause.
The film also suffers from uneven pacing, performances, and writing. Such hurdles are difficult to get over when there are not enough quality reasons for the audience to pull themselves through to the other side. These issues are not unique to The Sinners, and are symptomatic to so many early career films with thimble budgets, but they are still glaring.
The film’s appetite for grandeur is admirable and makes me think that there may still be plenty to look forward to from this thirsty cast and crew, however The Sinners will not quench that thirst.