THE LAST SIN EATER — ** — Liana Liberato, Soren Fulton, Louise Fletcher; rated PG-13 (violence).
"The Last Sin Eater" was shot entirely in Utah, with portions of Wasatch County filling in for 19th-century Appalachia, where the story takes place.
The handsome local scenery is this hokey historical drama's strongest asset. It's not horrible, though the rather chintzy production values have a glorified made-for-television look. (Coincidentally, the film is distributed by Fox Faith, which has also released films originally made for cable's Hallmark Channel.)
Newcomer Liana Liberato stars as Cadi Forbes, a 10-year-old who is feeling some guilt over the death of her younger sister, as Cadi wasn't very nice to her sister while she was alive. And Cadi's grandmother (Anne Cullimore Decker) has recently passed away as well, leaving her without a confidante.
Perhaps that's why she seeks out a mystery man (Pete Wingfield) referred to as the Sin Eater. A local legend, the Sin Eater is supposed to absolve the sins of the dead. And though she's deathly afraid of him, Cadi needs to find some form of absolution.
Co-screenwriter/director Michael Landon Jr.'s adaptation of the Francine Rivers novel is a little overplotted. There are storylines about a traveling man of God (Henry Thomas), a superstitious Welsh immigrant (Louise Fletcher) and the tiny community's tyrannical leader (Stewart Finlay-McLennan). However, they're all as sketchy and underdeveloped as the main thread.
The cast sports a variety of affected accents, but they sound more false than some of the dialogue.
Liberato seems a little uncomfortable. Given that Landon has her shouldering so much of the dramatic burden, you can hardly blame her. He doesn't use Fletcher and Thomas, as well as local actors Decker and Michael Flynn very well, either.
"The Last Sin Eater" is rated PG-13 for scenes of strong violence (including violence against children, though much of it off-screen or implied), as well as scenes of children in peril. Running time: 118 minutes.