The Last Sin Eater

Last_Sin_Eater“He grooms himself.”

The Scoop: 2007 PG-13 directed by Michael Landon Jr. and starring Louise Fletcher, Henry Thomas, and Liana Liberato

Tagline: A little girl’s quest for redemption uncovers a dark secret… and the truth shall set her free.

Summary Capsule: A plucky young girl wants help from a tormented Welsh guy in a budget dementor costume.

Sue’s Rating: Nurse Ratched comes to Methos’ aid in a fight for his very soul? Now THAT would be a movie worth seeing.

Sue’s Review: To me, watching an “Inspirational” movie is pretty comparable to those long ago days of being dragged kicking and screaming to Sunday School. For the record, I’ve always been pro-religion, but as those closest to me know very well that I hate wearing dressy clothes. Hate it beyond belief. Frills and lace and pantyhose and gravity-defying shoes make my skin crawl. Don’t ask me why, but it borders on absolute phobia.1

Anyway, I’m a life-long Christian, but movies “with a message” make me just as twitchy as that Sunday School dress code. Fingernails ‘n chalkboards, my friends.

None of this, of course, explains why I recently opted to watch a few movies in said dreaded genre. The novelty factor, maybe. Or maybe I just wanted to see if anything had changed over the years – either cinematically or personally. After all, I’m not getting any younger. (To be fair, neither are you. You might want to do something about those little telltale signs that everyone but you seems to have noticed.)

In retrospect, I’m a little surprised, because I didn’t hate The Last Sin Eater. I was a little disappointed maybe, but not in the way I might have expected.

First the premise. In 1850’s Appalachia, a group of Welsh immigrants have set up a tight-knit little community. When I say tight-knit, I mean to say, strangers will be summarily stomped into oblivion, so don’t make the mistake of moving in next door and dropping in to borrow a cup of sugar, okay? It’s not that the townsfolk are nasty by nature, it’s just that the guy in charge makes Freddy Krueger look like Mr. Rogers and no one seems to mind. Complicity by apathy, sort of thing.

One of the quaint customs of the village – maybe in later years something with which to attract the Goth tourist trade – is their use of a Sin Eater. Chosen by lot, the Sin Eater is nothing more than some poor schmuck with the short straw who is cast out of the village and has to live in a cave somewhere for the rest of his days. When someone in the village dies, our luckless Sin Eater is summoned to the cemetery to eat and drink a meal that’s been placed on (yes, on) the corpse. Not the coffin. They don’t do coffins. The corpse. Can I point that out enough? I mean, yuck! Anyway, by consuming the offering and uttering a few words of benediction, he takes the deceased’s sins into himself so that the dearly departed can move on to Heaven without further delay.

The Sin Eater is apparently so dangerously overloaded with sin, badness and slightly used soul sludge, that just looking at him can cause eternal doom, damnation and possibly even an irritating rash. It’s a rough gig being a Sin Eater.

Enter plucky young Cady Forbes. (Beware the Ides of March and plucky young heroines!) The death of her grandmother seems to be young Cady’s first introduction to the whole Sin Eater business. Naturally, not only does Cady actually look at the guy, against all instructions, but then she gets the bright idea that the best way to get rid of her own burden of extreme guilt is to track the Sin Eater down and get him to help her out, pre-mortem, as it were. (And people think video games are dangerous? I’m sure if Cady had a PS/3 or a Wii, she sure wouldn’t have been out in the fresh air, crawling around Dead Man Mountain and looking for the walking personification of sin.)

In any case, plucky young girls who follow you around (and are capable of talking back) are assuredly not in the Sin Eater’s employment contract. It’s not nice to irritate a Sin Eater. They have enough problems. But when Cady finally pins him down, she pulls out the trump card of telling him that if he doesn’t help her out of her morality issues while she’s among the living, she’ll remove her mortality, so that he’ll have to do it regardless. Nice kid.

Mr. Sin Eater is pretty sure that Cady’s idea voids the warranty and stuff, but he’s not really a bad guy and grudgingly agrees to help. (Sort of like when you give your kid a dollar to leave you the heck alone for an hour so you can write a movie review without interruption. Oops, did I just type that?) He gives it a try, but his initial assessment of the situation is right because for some reason, Cady isn’t feeling the love even after the whole benediction chant. She gets a vague, ‘sorry, come back when you’re dead’, rejection and she’s back to square one.

Just when all seems lost, a missionary comes along and gets her rolling along the path to redemption again. Well yeah, we all saw that coming, didn’t we? In time, Cady will turn the village on its ear, as plucky young girls are prone to do, and I don’t think I’m giving much away when I say that eventually there’ll be a happy ending of sorts. I mean, it’s an inspirational film. Happy endings are as standard for movies like this as tires are on new cars.

It’s an interesting enough story, but when all was said and done, all I could think was that it could have been so much better.

So much better.

The Last Sin Eater is well acted and the settings are gorgeous, but in places the story is stilted, even clunky. Poor writing or poor editing, take your pick. Among the actors are the young, but very talented Liana Liberatto, Henry “Phone Home” Thomas, Academy Award winner Louise Fletcher, and Peter “Why yes, I am an Immortal” Wingfield. There’s no lack of talent in the cast.

The few special effects (involving various people standing precariously on a log set high above a raging river) are so bargain-basement, that I don’t know why they bothered with them. They’re really – really – bad. So bad that it’s hard to take the rest of the story seriously. I’ve seen better on Blue’s Clues.

The resolution, when it finally arrives, is entirely too easy. People have been murdered, lives wasted, lies revealed, festering secrets brought to light, and yet… within five minutes, it seems that everyone has turned the other cheek, mostly because that plucky young girl and a feisty old lady in a mop hat chewed everyone out for being big fat meanies. Yeah, right. Okay. Fair enough.

The fundamental problem with The Last Sin Eater though is that I think it tries so hard to walk a fine line, that you can throw rocks at it from all sides. Is it a child-friendly movie? Sure, if you’re willing to explain to your kids about massacres, on-screen brutality and that, yes sweetie, dead bodies really do look exactly like that without the benefits of embalming. Is it a teen/adult movie? Factoring in both the dismal special effects and the central character of the standard plucky young heroine, I’d have to say not-so-much. Too violent for one demographic, too tame and schlocky for the other.

Still, there was so much potential here for so much more.

Maybe I’ll read the book.

1. Justin’s note: Just for the record, Sue wore an honest-to-God dress at my wedding. The first sign of the apocalypse, it was.

When super-glue goes horribly wrong.

When super-glue goes horribly wrong.

Intermission!

  • The accents are so thick that for the first half hour, I thought there was a character named “Cinneetah”.
  • The robes of the Sin Eater look like they’re made out of a plastic tarp. They’re also too long. Dramatic yes. Practical for living off the land in a wilderness area? No.
  • Cady and Faygan search for days before someone tips them off that maybe the Sin Eater lives on “Dead Man Mountain”. I mean, duh!
  • The Man of God might have had more luck with an NIV Bible. The King James version went right over Cady’s head.
  • Just because you live in a cave and consume the evil of mankind, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have good grooming habits.
  • Sin Eaters wear sensible shoes.
  • Kai Brogan probably isn’t going to get any father-of-the-year awards.
  • Do chicken bones qualify as a deux ex machina?

Groovy Quotes

Sin Eater: I give easement now to thee, Garwyn Forbes, that you not wander forever over fields or mountains or long pathways. And for thy earthly sins, dear woman, I pawn my own soul.

Cady: If you don’t take my sins away now, then I’ll make it so you can do it the proper way.

Sin Eater: Tell me what sin it is, grieves you so.
Cady: Did my granny tell you her sins before she passed?
Sin Eater: No.
Cady: Then if it’s all right with you, I’d rather not say my sins aloud.

Brogan Kai: You’re not wanted here, Sin Eater. You’ve no business coming off the mountain unless you’ve been called!
Sin Eater: There’s still time for someone to die here tonight.

Miz Elda: For once in your live, Brogan Kai, pipe down!

Cady: (About the Sin Eater’s belongings): He grooms himself.

Sin Eater: You’re not to touch my things! If anyone were to find out you’d touched my things, you’d be tainted like me! No one’s touched me in twenty years, and that’s how it has to stay! Step aside! Let me pass!

Sin Eater (when offered a Bible by Cady, after a brief explanation of redemption through Christ): I will never read that book.
Cady: Why not?
Sin Eater: Because it would mean I had wasted my life in this cave and never saved a single soul from damnation.

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