Courtney Paige combines the religious-fuelled violence of David Fincher’s Seven with the relentless social hierarchy of Mean Girls and Heathers in her feature directorial debut, The Sinners. In a small religious town (that seems likely to still burn witches at the stake) lives high school girl group “The Sins”, named due to their personalities reflecting each of the Seven Deadly Sins. They all feel oppressed by the fanatical religious ethos of their town, especially the leader of the group and daughter of the local pastor, Grace, who represents Lust.
The only member who does not revel in their infamy is Aubrey, the unwitting Pride element, who approaches her religious studies with the utmost devotion. When the other Sins steal her journal and realise she has noted all of their secrets, they decide to scare her into silence. The plan goes awry and Aubrey escapes into the woods; she turns up murdered, and the killer begins to advance down the list of sins.
This could have been a hilarious, twisted and irreverent middle finger to conformity and suppression – teenage rebellion mixed with horror has proved a successful algorithm for outings like the Scream franchise and Jennifer’s Body. There has also been a rise in religious-horror films with Ari Aster’s Hereditary and Midsommar receiving both critical acclaim and box office success. The Sinners fails to decide which sub-genre it sits in. It seems to aim to achieve what Jennifer’s Body did, capturing the venom of teenage girls but with a humorous edge, but it takes itself too seriously to offer any comic relief, and the forced tongue-in-cheek high school jungle trope thwarts any attempts to invest.
The narrative starts with an exciting rhythm, but for the second half it drags and becomes convoluted, unable to decide which character to focus on. The lead performance by Kaitlyn Bernard is painfully forced and unnatural, a far cry from Rachel McAdams’s immersion in Regina George.
The Sinners provides an interesting premise that is disappointingly ruined by its uneven and premature execution.
The Sinners is released on 22nd February 2021.
Watch the trailer for The Sinners here: