What would have become of Harriet the Spy if her journal hadn’t been discovered until high school, if she had graduated from chronicler to full-on snitch, and if her victims had been just a little more incensed?
Courtney Paige’s directorial debut The Sinners (2021) has a few ideas about that.
The opening scene serves us Sunset Boulevard by way of Twin Peaks, with a voiceover from teen girl Aubrey (Brenna Llewellyn) promising to uncover the mystery of why her body was found in a lake.
Much of the film takes place in the now-familiar horror terrain of a Catholic high school, with a narrative fuelled by youthful female aggression and backed by a stylish and moody soundtrack. The film (formerly known as The Color Rose) draws its title from the nickname given to the clique made up of our seven main characters, Grace (Kaitlyn Bernard), Aubrey, Tori (Brenna Coates), Katie (Keilani Elizabeth Rose), Stacey (Jasmine Randhawa), Molly (Carly Fawcett), and Robyn (Natalie Malaika). The group is referred to as The Sins. According to Aubrey’s ongoing voiceover, each girl personifies one of the seven, but only three truly matter (and are given any character development): the devout Aubrey (Pride), the rebellious (and secretly wlw) pastor’s daughter Grace (Lust), and her mean-girl love interest Tori (Wrath).
While the group at first seems (relatively) close-knit, Aubrey’s decision to betray the others in the name of her faith sets in motion a convoluted revenge plot that backfires after a violent incident, leading to Aubrey’s disappearance. When the rest of the Sins begin to follow suit, Grace and Tori struggle to hide their role in the attack on Aubrey and figure out who is taking out their clique.
The film doesn’t land on a distinct or consistent tone throughout, ricocheting from slasher to procedural whodunnit to teen drama, with a soupçon of Satanism sprinkled throughout and some belated comic relief appearing around the third act. The film never quite gels, which is a shame, as the premise and atmosphere are solid. Additional character development, particularly of the core group, would have been welcome. On the other hand, the visuals are slick, the music fits like a glove, and Brenna Llewellyn delivers a brief monologue that proves she hasn’t come to play. Plus, I’m always a sucker for a queer love story.
The Sinners is now available on VOD.
Score: 5.5 out of 10 burn books.