SHF2024: Sins of the Father Doesn’t Get Absolution

Image Courtesy of Salem Horror Fest

When someone says folk horror, I’m sure your mind goes to the same places mine does: Robert Eggers, Ari Aster, maybe some Ben Wheatley, and for sure Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man. These director’s films are the peak of folk storytelling. They offer the mystical, the natural, and the terror that all other films will forever look up to. Inspiration from those films can easily be found in Vanessa M.H. Powers’ Sins of the Father, which sees a mother move her son back to her deceased husband’s farm after going broke.

A woman in a dress stands in a field holding a bowl silhouetted by a man with a crown of sticks and runes in the shadow area in the poster for Sins of the Father

Sarah (Nora Targonski O’Brien) starts a caravan to the new house with her closest friends to relocate to a farm in the middle of nowhere with her son Aden (David Mitchell). From the start, Aden seems conflicted about pretty much everything. His mother’s new potential boyfriend, Liam (Anthony Tallarico), is tagging along, and there’s some animosity. He seems to have a crush on Liz (Anissa Eisenberg), the daughter of his mother’s besties, and of course, there’s the post-traumatic stress caused by his father’s death. While Sarah fares much better than Aden being surrounded by friends in a familiar setting, Aden is left frustrated. He feels like he’s lost his male role model and that his family is shrinking.

In the background of Sins of the Father, a conspiracy concerning the local townspeople develops. Sarah remembers some strange religious stuff but gets fuzzy on the details outside of needing her sister to bail her out, opening a levee of red flags for the audience. So when the townspeople start leaving food and attempt to speak with her son, Sarah’s insertion in the conversation begins to speak volumes about how her son views the world and why she doesn’t want him involved with the locals.

So, let’s start with the good. There are some terrific cinematic shots in Sins of the Father and excellent coloring. The location is quite beautiful without much help in that area, but there is some artistry involved to keep the viewer seeing the glow of sundown when they think about the film. Furthermore, the set pieces, specifically the alter Aden shows Liz out in the woods, are wonderfully designed and dressed. The place radiates a genuine creepy vibe, which helps perpetuate atmosphere when the finale brings them back to the location. I also thought costuming was well done, not only in the final act, where it may be more noticed, but even Sarah’s rural wardrobe perpetuated a certain feeling and aesthetic of someone trying to get comfortable in their environment.

Being that Sins of the Father has this much cinematic sensibility, it’s grating to tell you about the parts of it that don’t work. For starters, the story is not as cohesive or developed as writer Tristan Corrigan may think. There are multiple moments in the film where a small event or information revelation will disrupt the film’s pace, making it feel inorganic while screaming pretty obvious hints about what’s on the way. It may not be entirely the writing, though. Eisenberg and O’Brien give a couple of solid performances, while some others aren’t as strong, furthering audience fatigue. And Powers, who serves as both director and editor, makes a lot of interesting choices with Corrigan’s script. The result is an indecisive and frustrating film for an audience that knows way too early where the story is going.

One woman in silk pajamas cowers in fear next to another woman holding an ax in Sins of the Father
Thematically, there are concepts of misogyny, feminine suppression, and patriarchal culture at play and well countermanded by the a*s-kicking Jordan (LaTrell Brennan), who I’d honestly have liked to have seen more of. The film speaks to the societal woe of angry teenagers turning into angry adults with Freudian issues littering the periphery. And that enters into part of the reason why Sins of the Father fails for me. The film is far too easy to read for there to be so much nuance and so little patience. There are moments where an extra beat or an establishing shot could help build atmosphere and drama, and what transpires instead are repetitive scene setups that end on revelatory conclusions fueling a further disconnect with the audience.

I really wanted to like Sins of the Father, and for what it’s worth, it did manage to keep my attention for its entire one-hundred-minute runtime. The semi-obvious twist in the film makes it a little hard to root for characters who are ignorant of the potential threats lurking about. Still, the ending is fun. But a fantastically conceived final act is just not enough to make up for the jambalaya of problems forged in the first two. There’s some good here, but you have to look for it. However, if you wanted to make a screening of  the film a little more entertaining, you could do a shot every time someone says, “Aden.” Then again, you may not make it to the end.

Sins of the Father plays at 3:00 PM this Saturday at Hallowed Ground as a part of Salem Horror Fest’s Weekend I. Tickets for the festival are on sale now and include access to a multitude of films and events throughout this coming April 26 through April 28 weekend.

Written by Sean Parker

Sean lives just outside of Boston. He loves great concerts, all types of movies, video games, and all things nerd culture.

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