A Measure of the Sin is billed of as a drama/horror film, but its genre elements are few and far between. Rather, it’s a dark arthouse drama that deals with horrific subject matter. The style is obvious from the opening: a monotone, quasi-philosophical narrator waxes poetic about the complexities of life while a nude woman dances with a silk sheet.
I feared I was in for a pretentious, cliche-ridden bore, but A Measure of the Sin is quick to showcase its refreshing originality once the plot gets moving. Meredith (Katie Groshong, Jug Face) has spent her life in seclusion. Since the loss of her mother, she has been trapped in a cult-like household headed by an abusive man (Stephen Jackson) – potentially her father; credited only as The Man – alongside two other brainwashed women, Alicia (Starina Johnson) and Rush (Dale Rainey).
Meredith, ignorant to existence outside of the four walls of the farmhouse, doesn’t realize her life is abnormal. It’s not until she’s raped by what she believes to be a bear (portrayed by a guy in an unfortunate bear costume) that Meredith begins to question her imprisonment. She eventually flees after she’s impregnated. Forced to live on her own for the first time in her life, the viewer bears witness to Meredith’s journey while her voice over details the struggle.
Although the narration borders on heavy handed, the beautiful cinematography will keep you watching. Director/cinematographer Jeff Wedding shot on 16mm short ends, some of which was expired, other underexposed. The result is a palpable grain and soft focus that modern digital films lack, adding to the surreal quality. With a unique, European-inspired look, the film is visual poetry set to a lovely score by J. Alan Morant.
That said, A Measure of the Sin barely fills a feature runtime. It clocks in at a mere 76 minutes, although it feels longer due to its long periods of inactivity. The project likely would have worked better as a short film; in fact, that’s how it started. It’s based on a pair of short stories by Kristy Nielsen, which Wedding adapted into a narration-driven script.
The evocative film features quite a bit of nudity, but it’s never gratuitous. The girls – all three of whom are rather buxom – take turns bathing and shaving one another. The women are certainly attractive, but Wedding is careful not to sexualize them. Despite being relatively inexperienced actors, their performances are natural – even when performing the many unnatural acts that populate the film.
The DVD, put out by BrinkVision, features two commentaries. In the first, Wedding discusses the technical aspects of shooting on film while offering factoids about the process. He’s not afraid to point out his faults, even if it’s usually concluded with “I don’t care.” He also remains intentionally tight-lipped about some of the story’s more ambiguous elements.
The second commentary has Wedding joined by Groshong and Jackson, which is an all-over-the-place track. They discuss how the film was shot on-and-off over a period of five years (which, due to the abstract narrative, is barely noticeable), partly because Jackson went inexplicably missing. The disc also includes Wedding’s 2007 short, Gracie: The Diary of a Coma Patient, which displays the visual storytelling he would carry over to the feature.
I cannot recommend A Measure of the Sin to all horror fans, as most will be left disappointed. But those who enjoy arthouse cinema will appreciate Wedding’s haunting vision. It falls into several artsy trappings, but when it works, A Measure of the Sin is truly mesmerizing. Wedding handles a delicate subject matter with elegance, constructing an ambitious feature debut in the process.