THE SINNERS – Review by Maitland McDonagh

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Over determined nonsense wrapped in atmospheric cinematography and solid performances, The Sinners (aka The Color Rose) is the kind of superficially sophisticated genre film that makes unabashedly dumb-as-dirt old-school thrillers look good.

Directed and co-written by Courtney Paige and narrated from beyond the grave by pretty dead girl Aubrey (Brenna Llywellyn), found on the shore of a local lake with an American Beauty-rose delicately placed between her lips, Sinners is a sleek undermining of pop-culture mores that never rises beyond waspish snark.

Aubrey was a typical small-town, high school girl. Assuming, of course, that the small-town is next door to a pulp-fiction morass of secrets, lies and toxic relationships that define movie milieus from David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986) to Netflix’s ongoing Riverdale, a scabrous reimaging of the comic book universe that made Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica into squeaky-clean teen icons.

The location is a 21st-century version of the town that banned dirty dancing: Repressed, relentlessly white–save the token brown-skinned girl (Keilani Elizabeth Rose) who’s as shallow and privileged as her pale-skinned posse. Deeply Christian and profoundly hypocritical, it looks like an ideal refuge from nasty old big dirty cities until innocent Aubrey is found murdered. Her high-school classmates are plunged into an ugly morass of suspicion and fear, signaled by the creepy sequence in which Aubrey is abducted by a girl gang hidden behind animal masks. It’s hard not to recall 2008’s brutal The Strangers, in which a pod of clueless middle-class folks are terrorized by ruthless intruders wearing animal masks. Yes, there’s a Laura Palmer vibe here, but it’s a red herring; The Sinners, aka The Color Rose, is just a by-the-numbers stalk/slash movie pretending to be about something more.

Sinners is clued in to how incestuously suffocating teenaged girls’ friendships can be, which isn’t a revelation but is valid and the film’s oppressive Christian-indoctrination background rings true. But it still feels twice as long as it is because honestly, not news.

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Maitland McDonagh

Formerly's senior movies editor/reviewer, Maitland McDonagh now has her own site, Miss, and freelances for Film Comment, Time Out NY and other publications. She has written four books -- Broken Mirrors Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento, Filmmaking on the Fringe, The 50 Most Erotic Films of All Time and Movie Lust -- and contributed to many others, including Film Out of Bounds, Fantasy Females, The Last Great American Picture Show and Exile Cinema. Read McDonagh's recent artilces below. For her Women On Film archive, type "Maitland McDonagh" into the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).