Set in a small town where ‘there’s no battle between church and state because the church has already won’, The Sinners (aka The Color Rose) starts as a Heathers-ish mean girl movie in a fundamentalist milieu (as in the underrated Saved!). After taking a weird detour in a Satanic dream sequence (that evokes recent ‘satanic panic’ films like We Summon the Darkness and, ah, Satanic Panic), it plays out as a slasher whodunit (along the lines of My Bloody Valentine or All the Boys Love Mandy Lane).
Aubrey (Brenna Llewellyn) delivers a diary-like voice-over which sets out to explain ‘how I ended up at the bottom of the lake’ and keeps commenting on the action – even while she’s mysteriously missing. Aubrey is one of seven girls in the local high school who have come to be known as the Seven Deadly Sins because they loosely embody them – though, with a nice dig at several other films that have used this kind of set-up, the labels don’t exactly fit. Grace (Kaitlyn Bernard), daughter of the iron-willed pastor (Tahmoh Penikett), is stuck with being Lust because all the other sins are taken, though she isn’t especially lascivious. Aubrey got to be Pride, which she doesn’t even count as a sin, and is so devout that she confesses to Grace’s father about the nick-naming, which gets the whole girl gang in trouble. After having a dream in which she’s a member of a devil-worshipping circle, Grace foments a revenge scheme involving creepy masks and an abduction … which leads to Aubrey going missing and being presumed dead. Then, the sinners start being killed and arranged with flowers stuck in their mouths to symbolise their specific vices – which casts suspicion on the pagan flower-selling hippie couple who are already semi-pariahs.
The script by director Courtney Paige, Madison Smith and Erin Hazlehurst is studded with smart lines and is full of the kind of well-sketched characters that attract good cast members – but it’s clumsily structured as a mystery-horror film, with several key pieces of information delivered poorly, late or not at all. Several murders are just tipped into the later part of the film to up the kill count, with corpses never discovered and even the rudimentary logic of slasher cinema tossed out the window.
Some character threads are laid down as if they are supposed to lead to something, but then dangle and go nowhere. Try to follow the arc of the conflicted Sheriff (Aleks Paunovic) who has just had great news (his wife’s finally pregnant) that distracts him from the murder spree in town and is then troubled by help from patronising, crooked big-city cop colleagues (Lochlyn Munro, Michael Eklund). There’s a satisfying payoff to all this stuff, and a nice little moment as a pint-sized deputy (Taylor St Claire) who idolises the big man hotly defends his boss against criticism – then the film throws this whole strand away so randomly you wonder why the filmmakers thought it was worth spending so much time on building it up.
It’s still an entertaining, absorbing picture – but everything falls apart when you think about it. All the girls – Brenna Coates (Wrath), Keilani Elizabeth Rose (Avarice), Jasmine Randhawa (Envy), Carly Fawcett (Gluttony) and Natalie Malaika (Sloth) fill out the roster of sins – are good, and Bernard and Llewellyn are excellent.