Presenting a unique take on the mystery/thriller genre, Derek Simonds’ Netflix miniseries ‘The Sinner’, portrays a young mother, Cora Tannetti (Jessica Biel), enjoying a typical family outing at the beach before abruptly taking the life of a nearby man in an unexpected, violent fit of rage. Where things differ from more traditional programs of this nature however, is that no one, including Cora herself, can explain why she did it. Herein lies the intrigue that propels the plot of the series. It is this sense of ambiguity, tension and complete unknown that provides the backbone for the narrative structure of ‘The Sinner’.
Empathetic to her situation is police detective, Harry Ambrose, played by Bill Pullman, who most will remember from his role in ‘Independence Day’ as the President of America. This 8 part mini-series focuses predominantly on both Cora and Detective Ambrose, detailing the effect that their current and past relationships have had on their psyches. There is a lot of depth behind both characters and it is masterfully unveiled throughout the duration of each episode in collaboration with mesmerising and trance-like cinematography. The complex narrative structure methodically unfolds throughout the season, teasing viewers by giving them just enough information to maintain suspense, but leaving adequate room for interpretation. Additionally, the audience is constantly prompted to redefine what can be considered socially acceptable behaviour, based on the actions and reactions of various characters throughout the series. Featuring dark, moody overtones and a soundtrack to match, ‘The Sinner’ gives both Biel and Pullman a truly captivating platform to showcase their acting talents. Biel delivers an incredibly dynamic and disturbed performance in a role that is a far cry from her days in the family-drama series ‘7th Heaven’. Likewise, Bill Pullman’s addition to the series provides a fresh take on the tortured cop cliché, questioning stereotypical masculinity tropes and how it influences relationships.
What’s important to note is that this series does not rely heavy-handedly on violence and gore to make it compelling, rather the opposite in fact. While it’s gruesome pilot episode sets the foundation of the story, they are quick to move on from this event and refrain from using it as a crutch, prompting instead to dissect the psychology of the main characters through some very thoughtful editing, providing a deep insight regarding their demeanour. Unfortunately, there are some minor details within the earlier episodes that can misconstrue where the series appears to be headed. Whilst this may seem par for the course within the genre, it did seem to diminish the weight of the later episodes where everything is finally revealed.
‘The Sinner’ is yet another successful venture added to the Netflix binge-watch list, providing a uniquely psychological take on a genre typically saturated with shock-value and gore. The finale succeeds in tying up the series in a satisfying way and will leave you revisiting the plotline with a new found insight for days after the credits roll.