The Sin Eater (2023), Short Film Review

The Sin Eater (2023), Directed by Kelly Holmes and Written by Matthew White A Horror Movie Review by Mark Walker

1852, Wales: a desperate young mother carries out a forbidden ritual to save the soul of her unbaptised dead baby, but is tricked into taking on a terrifying supernatural burden. (IMDB)

The Sin Eater opens as Jemima (Carly-Sophia Davies) mourns the death of her new born son, stoically supported by her husband, Richard (Gareth Jewell) while her pious Mother-in Law, Eliza (Sharon Morgan) and the local priest (Lewis Mackinnon) put the literal fear of god into her as she worries for her dead son’s soul.

There was no time for a baptism and although not spelled out, it is hinted that Jemima is not the most devout of villagers. The poor boy never stood a chance. While Richard and his mother urge Jemima to move on and think about trying for another child, Jemima is desperate to see her son safely into heaven and takes desperate steps to guarantee this.

The Sin Eater (2023), Short Film Review

As she spends the night standing vigil over her son’s body, she welcomes a mysterious stranger, invited in secret, to perform a forbidden ceremony that will take the boy’s sins from him. The Sin-Eater, Thomas (Jack Parry Jones) has done this many times before, bearing the burden of other people’s sins to give them peace but potentially damning his own soul. Unfortunately for Jemima, Thomas is “full” of sins and cannot take any more, but he offers to show Jemima how the ceremony works and, blinded by the promise of being able see her dead son, she allows Thomas to weave his spell.

It’s a deal with a devil that will have consequences for all.

The Sin Eater (2023), Short Film Review

Despite being just 17 minutes long, The Sin-Eater packs in a lot, exploring themes around religion, motherhood, and the expectations of womanhood, all set against a backdrop of 19th century Wales.

We are given the impression that Richard and Eliza (and quite possibly the priest) see Jemima as a sinner herself, to be directed and silenced, her own desires and needs pushed down to ensure adherence to whatever religious codes they are expected to live by. Women should be seen and not heard, even in the wake of a newborn death. However, Jemima isn’t a voiceless servant, she isn’t one to be hidden away, to kowtow to her family or priests who seem ambivalent towards the fate of her child. Jemima breaks away from this oppression, to fight against the teachings of the church. An action borne out of love, but one mired in the consequence of acting beyond your station.

To reveal the ending, even in a short film, would be a crime. While the ending of The Sin-Eater isn’t the most surprising ending, it is still devastating, reflecting the consequences of being a woman and acting outside of expected norms.

The Sin Eater (2023), Short Film Review

The allegory is clear, and Jemima represents women across all ages.

Short and (not) sweet, The Sin-Eater is highly recommended and showcases the exceptional talents of Kelly as director and Matthew as writer. The combination of both English and Welsh language and the dark and foreboding direction/cinematography easily transport the viewer to another time, while building up the darkness that surrounds Jemima and the mysterious Thomas.

The small cast all work fantastically together and, while only on screen for a short time, Parry-Jones portrays Thomas as both an angel and devil, his intentions unclear towards the subtly played emotional dilemma of Davies’ Jemima.

As soon as you get a chance, you should seek out a viewing and give yourself an insight into the magic that pairing Holmes and White together has weaved! The Sin-Eater is a solid and creepy cautionary tale that wouldn’t look out of place on BBC2 on Christmas Eve.

THE SIN-EATER is currently heading to film festivals and is so far official selection at Abertoir Festival in Wales and FilmQuest in Utah, USA where it won Best Supporting Actor for Jack Parry-Jones.

While you wait for The Sin-Eater, why not check out Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch break, also from writer Matthew White, which is available on Sky cinema  – you can read the review HERE.

You can also learn more about Kelly and her work on her website HERE.

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  • Mark Walker

    Hi! I’m Mark Walker, a writer living in Gloucestershire with my family and a plethora of pets ranging from the practicality of Chickens to the downright creepiness of Tarantulas.I dabble in all kinds of writing, particularly screenwriting and short stories, but am branching out and have started working on longer-form novellas and novels.

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