Alex (Heath Ledger) is a priest of the Carolingian order. When his mentor dies, he travels to Rome to investigate his death, which brings him into contact with the Sin Eater – a man that can absolve someone of their sins and allow them into Heaven.
Note: This is probably more of a paranormal thriller than a horror film, but given its use of themes that are common to horror movies (demons and the like), I’m going to write about it anyway.
First, I’m going to start with my main problem with The Sin Eater (other than the fact that it was apparently released as The Order in America!), because it’s essentially the point upon which all of my criticisms rest.
A lot of the story of The Sin Eater hinges on decisions that are steeped in emotion on the part of the characters, which means that there’s also a requirement of some degree of emotional investment from the viewer. You need to be able to understand that, of course that’s the decision that they’d make, because you’ve recognised the love/anguish/whatever that would steer them in that direction.
Unfortunately, The Sin Eater just comes across as emotionally muted, somehow.
I don’t think that the problem is the acting. Actually, other than the fact that Heath Ledger seems to spend a lot of time scowling, the performances are pretty solid across the board. Not great, but solid.
The real problem seems to be that little effort is put into developing the characters, or establishing their relationships. Instead, we’re told that Mara (Shannyn Sossamon) has just escaped from a mental institute, where she was put for shooting Alex during an exorcism, and…now they’re in love. And it’s this love that leads to a cascade of other events, which are important to how the rest of the movie unfolds.
Obviously, there’s no requirement that everything has to happen within the timeframe of a movie in order for it to have an impact, but this is one of many important events that have happened off-screen, and which we’re just meant to accept without any kind of context. It often feels like the viewer is only being given the bare minimum of the story, with all of the onus for doing the groundwork then being placed in their laps. It’s a little disappointing, to say the least.
I think there’s actually the core of a good movie here. I just wonder how much of it ended up on the editing room floor.