The Last Sin Eater
A village gathers, dressed in mourning. Their backs are turned from the grave of young Cadi Forbe’s grandmother. All is dark, all seem frightened. A shrouded figure creeps in among the people, consuming the food and drink that has been place upon the body of the woman. Thus the Sin Eater takes on the sins of the deceased so that she may rest in peace.
This is the tradition that the Welsh immigrants have had for centuries. The people are content with this tradition. All except little Cadi Forbes.
Cadi holds a dark secret, one she has been unable to relieve from her shoulders since the day her little sister died. After witnessing the Sin Eater give her dead grandmother peace, she becomes obsessed with finding that peace for herself- no matter the cost. But upon her quest for redemption, Cadi discovers a truth she could have never imagined, and secrets long hidden.
The redemptive message throughout this film is not only touching, but strong. Many Christian films shy away from the gospel message, and being too bright of a light in a dark world. Not so with this film. Hope is at the core of the story, and even when things become very dark, we never lose sight of that hope, the hope only found in The True Sin Eater.
The strongest element in this movie though, aside from the redemptive theme, is the characterizations in this movie. They are stunning, and there are so many characters worth mentioning!
Cadi’s character is strong throughout the film. For the first half of the movie, she’s a restless seeker. “Would I have to live to be Granny’s age to be free of all the evil I had done?” but once she finds the truth, she is willing to stand for it, no matter the cost, and willingly steps between a gun and a man in an effort to protect him.
While originally seeking the Sin Eater for selfish reasons, she soon begins to reach out to the Sin Eater, connecting with him on a human level, and not looking at him as if he were some sort of demon.
We also see Cadi’s relationship with her father is strong- he always showing her his love and support- but she and her mother’s relationship has become very strained over the years. By the end of the movie all has been set right, though, and relationships are restored.
Fagan. You have to love Fagan. He’s the teenage son of the abusive clan elder who is kindhearted to his very core. Very quickly Fagan joins up with Cadi in her search for the truth, and puts himself in harm’s way to help her. Like Cadi, he’s willing to take a stand, and is beaten within an inch of his life for his stand. Fagan shows over and over again, throughout the movie, that he is not defined by his earthly father, but his Heavenly Father.
The Sin Eater. You know I can’t talk about this movie without talking about him. While I was completely freaked out with the opening scenes, and this man’s demonic presence, the movie quickly sheds light on the tattered, shadowy cloak this man wears, showing that all is not as it seems. The Sin Eater is referred to by locals as “a man who sold himself to the devil” and who “spends his whole life hopin’ people will die so he can feast on their sins.” We learn pretty quickly that that just is not the case. This man’s life is spent in a false service to God, saving others from their sins because it is “God’s will”. He serves selflessly, even though his service means he can never have physical contact with the living (including the woman he loves and was engaged to) and must sacrifice his soul. “For thy earthly sins, dear woman, I pawn my own soul,” he says at the graveside of Cadi’s grandmother. This man’s character arc is truly beautiful, powerful, and well done, making his redemption one of my favorite cinematic redemptions (and the book is soooo much better!!)
Oh yes, and the Stranger! A man of God who travels through the mountains proclaiming God’s love and truth. Despite the threats to himself within the community, this man stands firm, gently ministering to Cadi and Fagan, guiding them to salvation as the darkness crowds around them.
The Sin Eater rituals are depicted onscreen, and as I said, they creeped me out. However, the scenes were well done and are not portrayed in a horror flick type way. I honestly don’t think they could have done the movie another way, and still had it be as powerful as it was.
The biggest issue with this film, for most families, will be the violence. There’s no sexual content, no crude humor, and no language, but I do know families who won’t let their children watch the film because of the violence. And, to be honest, it is disturbing in a couple of scenes, but let me break it down for you, because this movie is so good, I think you should watch it anyways.
Fagan’s Father, The Kai, rules the mountain with a brawny arm and a bloody fist. He lies, cheats, and manipulates in order to maintain his control- little caring how his actions affect others. In the beginning of the movie we very quickly learn why the people follow The Kai without question- fear. When Cadi begins meddling in things the Kai doesn’t think she should be meddling in (finding the truth), we see him threaten her, first slapping her and then choking her until she passes out. Afraid of what The Kai might do, Cadi keeps to herself, never betraying who did this to her, even when her father finds her and carries her home in tears.
And family bonds mean nothing to The Kai. The Kai holds no love for his wife, constantly belittling and ignoring her, and he severely beats Fagan, leaving him bloodied and near death, to the point where the Kai’s oldest son dares to say “We should take him home, Pa, Fagan’s hurt real bad”. To which the Kai makes a reply to leave Fagan, or he’ll end up the same way. In this same encounter is the unsettling scene where Fagan’s father beats a man to death in front of his son and Cadi. While both of these things are violent and difficult to watch, they are not gory. We do see Fagan’s face black, blue, swollen, and bloody, but the scene is not explicit- blows are shown at a distance, off screen, or only halfway in the shot, and in the dark, making it as carefully filmed as possible. It is also poignant to note that Fagan and the other man are taking a Stand for the Truth and the Lord, which is why I am not opposed to younger viewers seeing it. The violence is a reality for believes all over the world, and our sheltered children should know that others do die for their faith. It made a big impression on me.
In addition to this, we also see that much of the reason why The Kai is the way he is, is because of his treatment at the hands of his own father, who slaughtered an entire Indian village and forced his son (a young Kai) to light fire to the teepees filled with women and children. It was a gruesome act that shaped the life of Brogan Kai.
There is also a scene where Cadi slaps her younger sister and yells at her mother that she hates her.
The only other negative element that should be mentioned is the fact that the movie does deal with the topic of suicide. As Cadi strives to find a way to rid herself of her soul-crushing guilt, she loses all hope when the Sin Eater cannot take her sins away. It is at this point that she goes to end it all and is on the verge of committing suicide when the man of God literally pulls her back from the brink. Once Cadi finds True Hope, she no longer has thoughts of suicide, but there is a dark period for her in the beginning.
The Last Sin Eater is not only a complex, intricate storyline that keeps you guessing and engaged. The movie is well acted, which is a rarity in Christian films, though that is getting better, but the performance of Liana Liberato (Cadi) is beautiful! For being so young, she was really able to capture the nuisances of Cadi’s complex emotions and character, making her incredibly endearing on screen.
I’m also a huge fan of the book, and I have to say, this is probably my favorite book to movie adaptation.
This movie stood boldly on the Truth of Christ’s Redemptive Power, and while I have heard arguments that they didn’t “hard ball” it enough, I was very impressed with how hard ball it was. Christian movies, let’s face it, are on the whole not powerful. This movie, though, tells a story about how Christ’s redemptive work can set free even the most guilt-ridden heart free. And that is why this movie is beautiful. Because it truly does tell that story.