Based on the faith-based historical novel by Francine Rovers and directed by Michael Landon Jr., this attenuated tale of sin, secrets and redemption is set in 19th-century Appalachia among a close-knit community of recent Welsh immigrants.
1830: Shadowy figures gather in the dark woods to draw lots, a ritual whose repercussions will come back to haunt them and their children two decades later. 1850: 10-year-old Cadi Forbes (Liana Liberato) dearly loves her grandmother (Anne Cullimore Decker), who provides the unconditional love Cadi's mother, Fia (Elizabeth Lackey), has withheld since her younger daughter, Elen (Molly Jepson), died in an accident for which Cadi holds herself responsible. Cadi is bereft when her granny dies, but morbidly fascinated by the old-country ritual of sin eating: The sin eater (Peter Wingfield), who's shunned except when his services are required, takes the misdeeds of the dead onto his own soul so that they may pass directly into heaven. Warned that damnation lurks in the sin eater's eyes, Cadi can't resist a peek and feels an unexpected kinship with the outcast. She conceives a brilliant idea after an odd encounter with an unfamiliar little girl named Lilybet (Thea Rose) near the spot where Ellen fell to her death: Cadi will persuade the sin eater to consume her sin while she's still alive. Then her parents might stop quarreling and her mother could love her again. She shares her idea with Fagan Kai (Soren Fulton), a neighbor her own age whose brutal father, Brogan (Stewart Finlay-McLennan), is the community's self-appointed leader. They approach Miz Elda (Louise Fletcher) for advice, and she accidentally lets slip that the sin eater lives on Dead Man's Mountain. Cadi and Fagan's efforts to find him stir up more trouble than they could ever have imagined — his exile is intimately connected to a terrible secret their parents have been keeping since before they were born. The children also come under the influence of a traveling preacher (Henry Thomas), whose simple message of faith and redemption touches them but enrages Brogan, who keeps the darkest secrets of them all.
Though marred by a certain awkward earnestness, Landon's film is evidence of the ever wider range of films aimed at the Christian market. The voice-over narration is obvious, but overall the message is integrated into an unusual story that's enhanced by Liberato's and Fulton's appealing performances as the youngsters who see through their elders' lies and help right a terrible wrong.