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‘Last Sin Eater’ reviews

Today marks the limited release of the FoxFaith-marketed The Last Sin Eater, an adaptation of Francine River’s novel set in the late 1800s centering on 10-year-old Cadi Forbes who’s haunted by guilt surrounding her little sister’s death and her quest for the mysterious Sin-Eater, a man the community believes can absolve people of their sin.

This blog’s had some hopes about the film, if only because the novel is rather a standout in the Christian publishing genre. The filmmakers also seemed to have similar hopes: Writer/producer Brian Bird wrote in a comment on this blog: “We feel it's a pretty special film, and we offer it to God as our humble creative loaves and fishes to use as he sees fit. We pray that it stirs up soul-cravings in the audience, but we leave that for others to judge.”

Well, that judgment has begun and, in the mainstream at least, critics seem to be fairly disappointed. Rotten Tomatoes, a site that compiles critic reviews, shows the film is running a 17% rotten with only three critics out of 18 giving the film positive reviews.

The positive reviews came from FilmJournal (“the handsomeness of the production, the juxtaposition of hardscrabble lives amid Eden-like beauty, and the affecting quest of an child not willing to accept the way things are make this a watchable film for adults”), ReelTalk (“an unusual and highly satisfying movie experience”), and UpStage (“though well-acted, and blessed with breathtaking panoramas and generally high production values, this religious-themed recruiting tool is really only recommended for those who consider Jesus their savior”).

Those who didn’t like the film include Joe Laydon at Variety:
Never afraid to overstate the obvious, helmer and co-scripter Landon establishes, underscores and italicizes each plot point with the well-intentioned didacticism of a Sunday School teacher . . . . As secular drama, however, The Last Sin Eater is too leisurely paced to be anything more than a modestly diverting time-killer.
And Lou Carlozo at the Chicago Tribune, who enjoyed some aspects of the film but ultimately believes the film doesn’t work:

As the plot unravels, we learn of the settlement's deeper sins--literally written in blood--and witness several layers of redemption that, while a bit too pat, consider forgiveness and healing from familial, spiritual and community-based dimensions.

That said, The Last Sin Eater has flaws too hard to ignore.
Some reviewers not included on RT’s compilation (at least, not yet) include a review in ScrippsNews--which gives the film three out of five stars and declares "The Last Sin Eater is a reasonably well-made thriller for its Christian target audience"--and fav-of-this-blog FilmChat’s Peter Chattaway who reviewed the film at Christianity Today, giving it two out of four stars:

The very concept of "sin eating" is so unusual that the film cannot help but be at least a little interesting. However, the movie suffers from the same sense of inevitability that afflicts so many other Christian films; at times you suspect the filmmakers are not all that interested in the phenomenon of "sin eating" for its own sake, but regard it as just another set-up for an evangelistic punch line.

The film suffers from pedestrian direction, but it benefits from decent performances, especially where its young star [Liana] Liberato is concerned. As a window into an older culture, or an evening's entertainment with the family, you could certainly do worse. Just don't be surprised when the movie starts preaching to the converted—that is, to the fellow believers who will undoubtedly make up the bulk of its audience.
Other reviews from the Christian press include Harry Forbes at Catholic.org (“engaging if unexceptional adaptation of Francine Rivers' novel”) and Phil Boatwright at Gospel.com (“I wouldn’t call this a great movie . . . . [but] The Last Sin Eater is original and touching”). Hollywood Jesus and Crosswalk.com have yet to weigh in.

Ultimately, it seems most critics conclude some aspects of the film work (even well) but that in the end the film’s flaws may balance out (at best) or outweigh (at worst) its positive attributes. I plan to make up my own mind about this one, so we'll see.

(Images: copyrighted by 20th Century Fox via the film's website)

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