The Last Sin Eater
Directed by Michael Landon Jr.. Starring Liana Liberato, Louise Fletcher, Henry Thomas, Soren Fulton, A.J. Buckley, Stewart Finlay-McLennan, Peter Wingfield, Elizabeth Lackey, Thea Rose. (2007, PG-13, 118 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Feb. 9, 2007
Based on a novel by Francine Rivers, The Last Sin Eater takes place among a community of Welsh immigrants living in the American Appalachians during the 1850s. Old World customs and superstitions still govern their rural lives, and sometimes (big surprise) these rituals are used to shroud secrets of the past. After her grandmother dies, 10-year-old Cadi (Liberato) first learns of the sin eater, a solitary man banished from the community who creeps out to imbibe the dead person’s sins, thereby absolving the sinner by taking them all unto himself. Feeling responsible for the death of her younger sister, an incident that has thrown her family into emotional turmoil, Cadi wants to find the sin eater so he can work his absolution magic on her. But once he does, she discovers she feels no better. (This girl’s so guilty it’s enough to make you suspect she’s really Jewish.) But then she and Fagan (Fulton), the platonic boy pal whom she plays with when she’s not traipsing through the woods with her ethereal spirit friend, Lilybet (Rose), stumble across a character billed only as Man of God (Thomas), who tells them all about Jesus Christ – the original sin eater. So there you have the film’s driving objective: supplanting the traditions of proto-hillbillies with the redeeming words of Jesus. Speaking of words, it’s impossible to accept as authentic the Welsh accents spoken in this Utah-filmed parable. Each character seems to be speaking a uniquely concocted dialect. Until I looked at the printed credits, my ears were unable to decipher whether the young heroine’s name was Cadi, Callie, or Carrie. (My favorite self-styled colloquialism is Cadi’s pronunciation of sin eater as a three-syllabled word that places the accent on the middle syllable: sin-ée-ter.) You’ll forgive the film if it looks a little bit like Little House on the Prairie: It’s directed by Michael Landon Jr., and all those pinafores and log cabins must be in his blood. However, the look of The Last Sin Eater is muddy and indiscriminately focused. The camera always seems to be too far off when you wish to get a better look and too close when you wish that it would point at anything other than what’s in the frame. Films that promote a Christian ethos and impart relevant narratives that go beyond the classic Bible-story mold are becoming more numerous and available through mainstream exhibition modes. Whether their goal is to nourish the faithful or lure the heathens is not always clear. The only thing that’s clear is that The Last Sin Eater serves neither of these higher purposes.