24 June 2007 | Buddy-51
like an ABC After Sunday School Special
According to ancient Celtic tradition, a "sin eater" is a person chosen by lottery to take the transgressions of others onto his soul so that the newly deceased can pass over to the great-beyond free of the stain of iniquity.
"The Last Sin Eater," the latest offering from FoxFaith Films (the branch of Twentieth Century Fox Studios that specializes in Christian-friendly movie-making) is a well-meaning but leaden and strangely eclectic work, sort of "The Village" meets "The Old Time Gospel Hour" meets "Little House on the Prairie" (no surprise in this last one, since the movie was directed and co-written by Michael Landon Jr.). Cali Forbes is a sweet-natured young girl, growing up in early 19th Century Appalachia, who believes that a mysterious hooded hermit - the local "sin-eater" - will be able to take away the guilt she feels over "causing" the death of her little sister in a river accident. She spends most of the movie seeking him out, much to the consternation of her parents and the myriad "colorful" folk who inhabit their little cove. However, it isn't until Cali encounters a wandering preacher (played by E.T.'s now-grownup buddy, Henry Thomas) that she learns who the "true" sin-eater really is (though one wonders how anyone in this particular time and place can be as woefully ignorant about the gospel as the people here seem to be).
Although the first half of the movie achieves a certain portentous creepiness in its tone and atmosphere, once the evangelist shows up, the movie devolves into an overwrought melodrama, marked by stilted dialogue, holier-than-thou speechifying and heavy-handed sentimentality. The acting, even on the part of Thomas and Louise Fletcher, is generally amateurish and wooden, although young Liana Liberato as Cali has a natural dignity and poise that work well on screen. And, oh yes, the scenery is eye-popping and gorgeous.
Based on the novel by Francine Rivers, "The Last Sin Eater" clearly has its heart in the right place, but good intentions alone can't make it a satisfying movie.