So you’re a Christian (Catholic, Protestant, whatever — you love Jesus). And like just about everyone else, you love movies.
But for the most part every time you check your local theater show times you get that “blah” feeling. Sure, you might see the occasional family-acceptable film (except you have to put up with the barnyard, zoo, or wilderness flatulence in a lot of the animated fare), but finding something that validates and encourages your religious beliefs is nigh non-existent.
Except for today. That’s because one of the first movie house offerings from the months-old FoxFaith (yes, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox) film division debuts — The Last Sin Eater. Despite its awkward title and grim but true-to-life premise, the story is an uplifting dandy with superb performances, stunning vistas, and compelling drama.
Based on the novel by Christian author Francine Rivers, the story revolves around the need to absolve the deceased of their sins before burial. Upon death, the Scottish and Welsh tradition called for one member of a community to act as the “sin eater,” who through consumption of bread and drink laid upon the departed’s body would “eat” his or her transgressions away, thus enabling the poor soul to find eternal rest. In The Last Sin Eater a group of Welsh immigrants have brought the ritual to 1850s Appalachia, and an adolescent girl burdened with the guilt of her own wrongdoings seeks similar freedom — while still alive, however.
Now let’s face it: evangelical Christians are used to being condescended to, and in the world of the contemporary arts, we have often deserved it. As movies go, until the recent The Passion of the Christ and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (as the two most notable trend-changers), we had become used to production on the (extreme) cheap, sappy storylines, unconvincing Christian themes, bad acting, and other aspects of lousy moviemaking that deserve the scorn they get. Talk about undermining your own credibility.
Thankfully, The Last Sin Eater doesn’t follow that pattern. Although small-budgeted ($2.2 million) and bound by a short-filming schedule (22 days), the film is as professional a production as you will find. The only (barely) noticeable deficiencies are a pair of seconds-long scenes in which less-than-perfect special effects are onscreen — understandable given the budget. But they do no harm to the film, unless you are predisposed to hate this kind of thing in the first place.
And those people have already emerged. A reviewer for the Village Voice said the movie has “a heavy-handed Christian agenda” with a “barely-legible plot.” A fellow from something called Slant magazine called it “Sunday school fodder” for “those who follow blindly.” Other mockers have emerged as well, with more certain to follow.
Well, my 12-year-old was able to decipher the story, which doesn’t speak well of the Voice that the Village chose to review the film. And if these critics did a little more work other than slide the screener in the DVD player, they would know that FoxFaith isn’t distributing these flicks with the scornful in mind. A simple enough Web search would educate them about the approach of the new division, which is to capitalize on the largely untapped Christian market. From a FoxFaith press release:
Established for Christian retailers and churches/ministry organizations as a collection of inspirational films they can recommend and promote among their congregations, this new consumer and retail brand will be comprised of filmed entertainment with a clear Christian message or based on material by a Christian author. FoxFaith will be a home entertainment distribution label as well as the marketing engine for limited theatrical releases of films specifically made for and targeted to the Christian audience as well as those seeking quality, inspirational and spiritual entertainment.
In other words, for you secularists, “we didn’t make this movie for you.” Wouldn’t it have been nice had these publications instead assigned The Last Sin Eater to someone who knows the intentions of the filmmakers and reviews accordingly? A class act like Roger Ebert at least knew what Mel Gibson was trying to accomplish and, as Rush Limbaugh said, reviewed The Passion of the Christ exactly the right way.
So, disregard the faith skeptics’ opinions and take my word (and Cal Thomas’s) for it: The Last Sin Eater is engaging, uplifting entertainment. Director Michael Landon Jr. is every bit the storyteller that his father was. And each acting performance is inspired, especially that of lead actress Liana Liberato, who plays 10-year-old Cadi Forbes. She is in nearly every scene and is perfect in the role.
It won’t be in every multiplex, however, so you may have to search for it. FoxFaith’s website can help you do that. Don’t miss it; you will be rewarded, and it just might inspire FoxFaith (as well as others) to put even more effort and money into similar productions.
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