“The Sinner”: My thoughts on Netflix’s popular whydunit

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Rating: ★★★★

Over the Christmas break, my boyfriend Josh and I settled down in front of Netflix with copious amounts of festive treats. Our watchlist is about a mile long but we eventually decided on The Sinner, an intriguing mini-series with the following tagline:

Everyone knows she did it. No one knows why.
The crime genre isn’t exactly lacking in content these days, but straight away this sounded like something new and exciting, so we sat down to watch. In the first episode, we see young mother Cora stab a man to death in the middle of a crowded beach and seems baffled about the reasoning behind it soon after. This event forms the rest of the series and the creates the question on everyone, including Cora’s, lips: “why?”. We’re all too familiar with the concept of “whodunit”, where characters and spectators alike are trying to piece together a puzzle and find the culprit, but The Sinner makes it painfully obvious that Cora committed the crime in the first half an hour of episode one. The frustrating part for everyone is uncovering the motivation behind it.

The central performances by Jessica Biel and Bill Pullman are addictive, they pull you in and have you fully engrossed in the narrative. Biel’s portrayal of a tortured young mother trying to work out why she murdered someone is haunting, and Pullman’s obsessed detective with his own dark past is the perfect accompaniment. They’re an unlikely duo, and one that would never have formed had she not been arrested.  One of the things I loved about this show is the fact that every character is three-dimensional and has huge amounts of depth to their characters. When you have a script that focuses mainly on the protagonist, you do run the risk of everyone else being pushed into the background. In The Sinner, every character is important, and everyone we see has a part to play in the story.

Stylistically, it’s a beautiful watch despite the fact it’s also incredibly bleak.  The locations are beautiful, yet haunting, and the camerawork is often uneasy and intrusive. Sometimes you feel as though you shouldn’t be watching what you are. You want to turn away, close your eyes, but you don’t. We get a real insight into character’s lives over the course of each episode, and eventually, just when you think you might have it figured out, the truth is revealed. I, for one, did not see that motive coming at all. I won’t spoil it for you, as it’s best you go into it with as little context as possible for the full experience.

It’s an incredibly dark story with some disturbing scenes, and narrative themes such as religion, motherhood and emotional repression. It’s an uncomfortable watch, but absolutely necessary in order to push the story forward. We ended up binge watching all eight episodes in two days, and we would have probably done it in one sitting if we didn’t have an early start the next morning! The Sinner is the kind of show that pulls you in and refuses to let you go until the credits of the final episode roll. Even after that, it’ll stay in your mind for a while.

 

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