After being sent to a sinister religious retreat by their stepfather, two siblings fight to escape in order to save their mother from harm’s way.
If ever a film could be a blunt force weapon in the morality war, Children of Sin would be a perfect embodiment of it. The war, as it were, would be the sense of moral code ideals that a faction of the extreme right amongst christian groups uses to assault the world of civility and genuine love and humanity that most humans still cherish. This twisted, grotesque pseudo-dogma that most mentally-unbalanced of the church-going community propels them to commit acts far more horrific than any flesh-eating zombie/vampire/ghostly horde straight out of the legion of B horror cinema that is out there. Christopher Wesley Moore’s Children of Sin has nothing to do with any of the old supernatural spirit or monster tropes. Instead, it places the blood-red spotlight squarely on the most demonic of beasts, the religious fanatic with bloody and mangled notions of right and wrong, what is a sin and what is not.
The story here is simple. Two siblings, Emma and Jackson, are sent by their mom and abusive stepfather to a religious retreat facility for a form of conversion therapy. Emma is pregnant and unmarried while Jackson is gay. Mom and dad think they all may be just refused entry into their vision of Heaven as an exclusive country club. The two are dropped into the “loving” care of Mary Esther, a vile nut-job who runs Abraham House, who makes sure anyone who doesn’t follow her strict edicts gets hacked to death by various means. Mary Esther also appears to be a cannibal, as she strongly hints at in one scene when someone asks at the dinner table where one of the others has disappeared to. Mary Esther suggests that the person is still here and just may be not only inside her right now (as she eats a piece of meat) but in the stomachs of the others at the table (inducing more than a bit of nausea from the remaining kids). Am not exactly certain what her thought pattern was at that point. She may have been taking the quote from Leviticus 26:29 of “You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters” a little too seriously.
Credit to director Moore for tackling such a hot topic of society of late. It especially rings true in this last year with the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and the continual threat of conversion therapy practices that still go on to this day. The balance Moore shows in the presentation of the film is one where the gore is enhanced (no doubt for a needed level of cinematic shock value), but he never loses sight of the dramatic power his straight-forward theme has. There is as much pungent dialogue and emotion as there are knife stabbings, hatchet swinging and disembowelment. On occasion, movie-goers like myself do like to actually think in between blood spurts and axe-wielding mayhem. Credit should also go to his aversion for cgi and reliance on solid practical effects in the kill scenes. Adds more of an unnerving realism to the affair.
Performance-wise, Jo-Ann Robinson stands out as the psychotic Mary Esther, echoing the full-throttle turns in years past of Bette Davis or Susan Tyrell as the batty old dame as was once the term. Her scenery-chewing is a pure delight to watch. Equally good is Jeff Buchwald as the monster abuser of step-dads. Haven’t seen bitter venom like this since James Coburn’s monstrosity of an old man in 1997’s Affliction. Lewis Hines (Jackson) and Meredith Mohler (Emma) lend an air of sympathy and quiet strength to their teen survivor hero roles.
The project is filmed mostly on interiors in Jackson, Madison and Brandon Mississippi. The limited exteriors, which open up the action a bit, are ok but the home used for the retreat is a nice match for the grisly goings-on under its roof. The large size and multiple rooms help provide a feeling of dread in the what’s-around-the-corner vein. One of the scenes involves a victim tied up for days in a locked room that has a completely creepy feel to it when the door is opened. Not often that a room itself in a movie gives that feel to the audience.
If any who are on the side of humanity and democracy need a hero with a powerful weapon against the extreme bible-thumping psychos out there, Christopher Wesley Moore is just the needed hero. He’s locked and loaded with a superb chiller like Children of Sin.