Having heard exactly zilch about The Last Sin Eater before receiving my review copy, I expected it to be a low-budget horror flick. Boy, was I wrong. This film is based on a bestselling novel by Francine Rivers, a popular writer of Christian-themed fiction. Produced under the 20th Century Fox FoxFaith brand, it’s intended for an Evangelical Christian audience.
The story is set in 1850’s Appalachia, where a group of early Irish settlers have made their home. When the grandmother of 10-year-old …adi (Liana Liberato) dies, Cadi loses the only person who loved her no matter what sins she’d committed, for even her own mother seems to blame her for a recent family tragedy. At her grandmother’s funeral, during a mysterious ritual, Cadi sees the Sin Eater (Peter Wingfield, Holby City), a disturbing man who symbolically eats the sins of the recently departed, taking them upon himself to allow the dead to rest in peace.
Haunted by her guilt over the death of her younger sister and scorned by many in her small community for her grievous sin, Cadi defies her elders when she decides to seek out the Sin Eater, believing him to be her only hope for forgiveness. If it doesn’t work, she appears ready to commit suicide, for her pain is so deep.
She eventually tracks down the elusive Sin Eater, who lives high up on Death Mountain, along the way befriending a mysterious girl few others can see – leading viewers to suspect she’s either a ghost or an angel – and Fagan (Soren Fulton), the more mundane son of the community’s mean-spirited leader. Cadi is sorely disappointed when the Sin Eater fails to eat her sin, and she and Fagan are disquieted about dark secrets they’re uncovering about their forefathers.
Enter “the Stranger” (Henry Thomas of E.T. fame), a Christian missionary ready to risk his own life to spread the truth of God’s word. While Fagan’s controlling father threatens violence against this man of God, Cadi befriends the stranger and finally finds forgiveness in Jesus, the only true sin eater. But this man’s presence and the secrets the children are uncovering will lead to a dramatic, deadly climax as the settlers confront the ugly truths of their past and find redemption in Christ.
The Last Sin Eater is billed as a family-friendly film with a Christian message, and it largely fulfills that promise. However, some aspects of the story may prove too disturbing for younger viewers, so parents should still exercise caution.
As for the film’s quality, it’s surprisingly strong for a lower-budget faith-based film. No offense to the burgeoning sub-genre, but some of its recent projects have barely qualified as good enough for direct-to-video release. What The Last Sin Eater has going for it is a strong cast led by experienced actors Henry Thomas and Oscar-winner Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest). Even the youngest actors, Liberato and Fulton, have strong showings despite minor issues with the consistency of their welsh accents. Also helping the film along is the interesting folklore material derived from Rivers’ bestseller, though the screenplay adaptation may have lost some of the story’s appeal in translation from page to screen.
As for weak points, director Michael Landon Jr. (Love Comes Softly) sets a slow pace, with the film clocking in about 10 minutes too long. And the unfortunate hallmark of many low-budget movies rears its head here – the dreaded bad visual effects. I haven’t seen blue screen effects this bad in quite a while, and they do detract from the intensity of key sequences.
Despite those flaws, I have no doubt The Last Sin Eater will find its audience, and that many families looking for faith-based films to enjoy together will enjoy this one. So, how’s the DVD?
Please note: this review is based on a promotional copy of the film, not the actual retail version. Video and audio quality may vary.
The Last Sin Eater is presented on one disc, in 1.78:1 widescreen format. Unfortunately, it suffers from nagging issues that appear to derive from both the source and the digital transfer. The source material is inconsistent, with a variety of soft, grainy shots mixed in with the more appealing stuff throughout the film. Things are worse with the transfer, as there are several instances of obvious edge enhancement, and all of the fast-moving shots are plagued with compression artifacts. All told, this presentation will certainly affect some viewers’ enjoyment of the film.
Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1, and it sounds much better than the film looks. All dialogue is clearly audible, and the somewhat generic score sounds full across the front sound stage. Adding to the experience, there’s a decent amount of directional effects on the surround channels. On the negative side – and I never thought I’d say this – the mix has too much bass. During any of the darker scenes, such as the ritual that opens the film, there is continuous heavy bass that overpowers everything else. My system sounds great on effects-laden films like Spider-Man 2, which has plenty of the rumbles, and I wanted to turn my sub’s volume way down during this film. If I hadn’t been too lazy to get up, I might have done so. Instead, I cringed my way through these sequences.
While audio is English-only, subtitles are available in English and Spanish.
The Last Sin Eater offers little in the bonus materials department, but as always a little is better than nothing. First up is a making-of piece, Behind the Scenes of The Last Sin Eater, which runs about 20 minutes, with interview clips from various cast and crew. It’s a little heavy on the story summary, but not bad overall. Next up are seven deleted scenes, none of which would have added significantly to the film. Finally, there’s a collection of trailers for other faith-based films, for those interested in seeing more from FoxFaith.
The Last Sin Eater, despite its ridiculous title, is a decent film in both quality and content. If you’re interested in faith-based films, this one is worth a rental. You’ll just have to deal with the poor video and bass-heavy audio, because I doubt there’ll be an improved release in the near future.
Special Features List
- Behind the Scenes of “The Last Sin Eater”
- Deleted scenes