The Sin Eater Poster

The Sin-Eater (2024) Review

The Sin-Eater, not to be confused with Sin Eater, is a seventeen-minute short from director Kelly Holmes (Attrition, Family Portrait) and writer Matthew White (Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break, The Final Haunting).

For those who aren’t familiar with the term, let me quote Wikipedia, “A sin-eater is a person who consumes a ritual meal in order to spiritually take on the sins of a deceased person. The food was believed to absorb the sins of a recently dead person, thus absolving the soul of the person.”

In this case, the deceased is the infant son of Jemima (Carly-Sophia Davies, The Eternal Daughter, Midsomer Murders) and Richard (Gareth Jewell, Gwaith/Cartref, The Devil’s Vice). The child died before his parents could have him baptized, and Jemima is terrified that means he won’t be allowed into Heaven.

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Further complicating matters, is Eliza (Sharon Morgan, The Library Suicides, Gangs of London), the family matriarch who considers Jemima an outsider and blames her for giving her son an unhealthy child. Richard is afraid to stand up to her, and the local priest Samuel (Lewis Mackinnon, Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire, The Thing That Ate the Birds) also seems to fear her more than the God he allegedly serves.

In desperation, she seeks the services of the sin-eater Thomas (Jack Parry-Jones, A Kind of Kidnapping, Moon Dogs). But is he any more trustworthy than the others?

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While on its face The Sin-Eater is a grim piece of folk horror, and aided by the dark and atmospheric cinematography of Alan C. McLaughlin (Outpost: Black Sun, Isolani) it certainly succeeds at provoking shivers.

‘The Sin-Eater is about a lot of things that are important to me: the class systems, women’s rights and the oppression of Wales, its people and its language. So to have Kelly, David and the amazing cast and crew making this happen is a dream come true. And it was an honour to work with Mandi Moore at Aberystwyth University to bring the Welsh language to life in the script.’

Matthew White

But the story has deeper roots, centred around Jemima’s refusal to “know her place” in society. Her mother-in-law sees her as inferior and not good enough for her son because of her lower class origins. And Samuel is willingly complicit in this, being on the right side of a secular petty tyrant is more important than comforting a woman troubled over a dead child’s soul.

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There’s also a moment where Thomas insists that they speak Welsh, even though Jemima has converted to speaking English, which is seen as higher class. That was the result of centuries of discouraging and outright banning its use, much like my mother’s ancestors were forbidden to speak Gaelic in Scotland. It’s just another level of oppression, and the fact she can speak it another reason to look down on her.

While the ending it builds too may not be the most original way to end the story, it is a powerful one, in part due to a strong performance by Davies. The entire cast is good, but she runs the gamut of emotions throughout the film, culminating in a devastating graveside scene.

The Sin-Eater will be screening at Galway Film Fleadh on July 10th. You may be able to find out about future screenings on the director’s website.

Our Score
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