The Sinners snuck up on me. I did not expect to like this film as much as I did. This high school horror thriller from the mind of writer, director Courtney Paige has all the earmarks of the typical low-budget riff on every good girls gone bad movie we have seen before. Grace (Kaitlyn Bernard) is one of the leaders of a rebellious click of girls known as The Sinners at a private Christian school. Unbeknownst to her father Pastor Dean (Tahmoh Penikett) she leads the crew in all manner of hijinks. That is until one of their crew, a girl named Aubrey (Brenna Llewellyn) is found dead. What’s worse, the group of friends is implicated. Before I knew it I was all in with this snappy little movie that is part Jawbreaker, part The Craft, and a little Heathers that offers up a fresh take on the killer school girl tropes.
Why does the film work? Let’s start with the performances. Bernard’s Grace is a doe-eyed angel with wispy blonde hair. She begins to feel out her authority with particular nastiness that is delicious to watch. Then soon enough her devilish cover is blown when Aubrey turns up dead. Speaking of, Llewellyn‘s performance is, in a word, diabolical. There is a particular scene midway through the film where Grace and the gang suspect that Aubrey is spilling the beans to the principal. The group lures her up to Grace’s attic under the guise of a bible study and, well, girls will be girls. That’s not to say that the other performances were great. In fact the entire group of sinners were pretty on point. I would also note the diversity in casting the crew. Nicely done.
Director of Photography, Stirling Bancroft, uses plenty of tight focus shots and heavy saturation to emulate the look of the 90’s slasher movies like Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and the aforementioned Jawbreaker. Paige peppers in visual homages to all these films as well along with references and story beats that feel familiar yet still seem to entertain and surprise. Paige’s script is structurally sound, leaving no plots left behind while working to keep the audience guessing.
No, this is not groundbreaking cinema, this is candy-coated, blood-spattered, entertainment and I was living for it. Plain and simple The Sinners was a hell of a lot of fun (see what I did there?). Courtney Paige establishes herself as a strong, yet wickedly funny fan of camp, horror, and popcorn cinema. There are a number of missteps here and there that plague nearly every new filmmaker be it a bit of dialogue here, a scene there, but overall, this is a solid piece of work that makes me want to keep an eye on her as an emerging talent. That goes for a number of the cast as well, including Llewellyn. Light the candles and give The Sinners a try.
7 out 0f 10