The Sinners is the latest thriller to center on teenage girls, in the vein of The Craft and Jawbreaker before it. Premiering on February 19 through VOD, the film is the directorial debut of writer-director Courtney Paige, who also plays a role.
Two of its stars, Kaitlyn Bernard and Brenna Llewellyn spoke with Screen Rant about the cult of The Seven Deadly Sins that their characters form at school, how they explored their backstories, and what their own sins would be in real life.
Grace represents Lust as one of the seven deadly sins. Is that a moniker she deserves? Who is Grace to you?
Kaitlyn Bernard: I think she does not deserve the sin, as Aubrey says in her opening monologue. It’s funny because she’s the least deserving of her sin yet she’s the one that names everyone with the sins. So, it’s interesting that she has that as her sin, but she definitely aspires to portray that or take that on.
I think that, with Grace, there’s so much going on internally. A lot of times, you see popular girls in films being portrayed as just popular mean girls. But with her, you get to see the flip side and what’s going on internally, in terms of her trying to figure out her sexuality while growing up in a religious household, trying to rebel against her parents, not wanting to follow in the same path as her parents and her brother. She has a lot of internal struggles that she’s dealing with and trying to keep inside, so I love that it really shows those two different perspectives instead of just the one perspective of the popular girl.
Aubrey represents Pride. Can you talk to me about who she is? The character really surprised me a lot, especially the further we go into the film.
Brenna Llewellyn: Yeah, I think there’s so much to pride. And the main img of it for Aubrey is her faith. Her faith is like the pinnacle of her whole existence; she lives for the Lord God, her Savior. And all she wants is for the people she loves to be as safe and saved and holy as she is. Her pride has almost a sense of innocence to it, because it is her pure intention. But at the end, her pride is what kind of makes her go… There’s a little twist.
How does the rest of the school look at The Sins? This clique of girls that run the school, it seems.
Kaitlyn Bernard: I think that there’s a lot of fear. We almost control using fear as The Sins, because even just our name itself is so shocking to other people at the school. I think that’s kind of the dynamic between us and the other students.
Brenna Llewellyn: I think those students also kind of want to be that. You want to have a label, it’s an easy way to fit in. You want to be pretty and cool, even in real life. There’s always that popular girl group at school, where you go, “I wish I was friends with them. I wish I was invited to their parties.” Even though you know they might not be the most wholesome or good-for-you kind of kind of people.
Kaitlyn, can you talk to me about Grace’s relationship with their family and how strict her household is. What’s their relationship, especially with her pastor father?
Kaitlyn Bernard: Yeah, I think it’s really interesting. Because like I said, she sees that even her brother has gone in the same direction as her parents have, and she just doesn’t want that for her life. Her dad is very controlling, he’s hands on, he wants her to be this perfect daughter. He wants her to be seen in the community as this perfect Christian girl, which she does not identify with. It’s definitely a struggle with her father, because a lot of their views just don’t align with each other. Especially when it comes to her sexuality and her not being able to voice going through those changes.
Aubrey seems like she has this inherent rivalry with Grace. Can you talk to me about the seeds that are planted there from the beginning?
Brenna Llewellyn: Actually, this isn’t written into the script, but Courtney told Kaitlyn and I that these two girls used to be best friends. Out of all the seven, it was them two. Then we get this new girl who comes in, Wrath – who other Brenna plays, she’s fantastic and I’m obsessed with her. She steals the attention away from Aubrey; this is the backstory not in the script.
But then that gives me that character element. Okay, so I’m feeling pain. I’m feeling hurt from Kaitlyn’s character putting me to the side and not putting me as a priority anymore. I kind of feel that black sheep effect in the friend group.
Grace’s family almost feel like a cult themselves. Can you talk to me about how the family parallels the seven deadly sins group?
Kaitlyn Bernard: Yeah, I think that there’s a very interesting dynamic, because both groups – even more so Grace’s family – are very, very strong in their beliefs and the way that things are done. They’re done in a certain way, and if they’re not done in that certain way, then there’s punishment. That’s a really good way of explaining and looking at it; they’re almost like a cult themselves. That’s really interesting.
But with the Seven Deadly Sins, it’s almost like I’m creating my own cult. Seeing my father do that, seeing my father be the pastor and control the town, I’m doing that but with my friends. Yet it’s the complete opposite, because I’m trying to rebel against my dad.
Aubrey really feels like an outsider in this group. Can you talk to me about how she fits in and what brought her to the group?
Brenna Llewellyn: Yeah, I think they all go to a religious, private, Catholic school, so they can all relate to that. Aubrey feels as if her faith is better than the other girls, but she also wants to fit in, and she does love them. So, she accepts them for all their sins, but that isn’t gonna stop her from trying to change them to be who she wants. It’s like a little controlled struggle for herself, even though she’s not as brave as Grace to get the control that she wants me… until a point.
We really see Grace’s character change in the beginning of the film, whereas we see Aubrey’s towards the end of the film. But can you talk to me about the challenges that that you face as an actress, just in the mindset of changing after that talk with Grace’s family?
Kaitlyn Bernard: I think it all goes back to teenage emotions and teenage rebellion, which I think we all have gone through at some point. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it was challenging, because I’ve had not – necessarily similar talks with my family, but I have had disagreements with what my mom wants me to do, or my family’s beliefs as a whole.
I think that really drawing on that element and drawing on that dynamic helped me a lot in those particular scenes. I did go through a period in my life where I just didn’t talk to my parents, and that is very unlike me, because I used to tell my parents everything. And now as I get older, I think I rely on my parents more so now than I did before.
Brenna, your character goes through a change towards the end of the film. How fun was that for you to sink your teeth into? When you read the script, were you as surprised as the viewers are probably going to be?
Brenna Llewellyn: It was fantastic. It’s honestly an actor’s dream. When I first read the script, or the sides to do a self-tape for the character because I only had a paragraph from the end of the movie. The minute I read it, I instantly understood the vibe, and I was like, “I hope she wants me to take it a little bit in this direction I think she wants me to take it in.”
Then on the day of shooting it, Courtney just gave me the all-in to go for it.
If there was an opportunity to reprise these roles in a prequel would you guys be up for it?
Kaitlyn Bernard: Yeah.
Brenna Llewellyn: 100%.
Out of curiosity, in your own life with your own personalities, which of the seven deadly sins would you relate to the most?
Brenna Llewellyn: I probably have a little bit of all of seven in me, but definitely gluttony would be the strongest one for me. I eat a lot of donuts and a lot of ice cream, at least a liter and a half in one sitting sometimes.
Kaitlyn Bernard: I’m not entirely sure. Probably gluttony as well. I love sweets, and I love sugar.
In your opinion, who is more devious: Grace or Aubrey?
Kaitlyn Bernard: I would say Aubrey, because I think that Grace has the right intentions going into it. But things get way out of hand, and she ends up just digging herself into this huge hole. So I would probably say Aubrey. But at the same time, in her mind, nothing is wrong with what she’s doing. So yeah, that’s a good question.
Brenna Llewellyn: Yeah, Aubrey definitely believes wholeheartedly she’s doing the right thing for the good of all humanity. But she’s a little sneaky about it, and I think she lies to herself about. That’s her pride coming in; her ego.
This is Courtney’s feature directorial debut, and she did an amazing job. Can you talk to me about the collaboration process with her and her directing style?
Kaitlyn Bernard: I think it’s awesome because she was originally an actor, so she has that different perspective that a lot of directors don’t have, in that she knows what it’s like to be an actor on set. So, she was really able to guide us and help us in that way, versus just being a director. She was almost like a coach in some aspects, so I think that was awesome.
She’s super hardworking, super driven, and she just was able to get it done. She’s just one of the most determined people I know, and it was awesome working with her.
Brenna Llewellyn: Yeah, she’s a hustler. It was so inspirational on set to see, and it makes me want to be a female director and follow her footsteps. But her creative visions are just so clear and detailed, and she’s very direct with what she wants. Which works for my brain, because that leaves no room for indecisiveness with the character development. It was a breath of fresh air to work with.
She also wrote the film. How does that help inform the characters when you are on set?
Kaitlyn Bernard: Well, I think the characters are like her babies. They’re like her children, because she in many ways was drawing on experiences that she’s had with particular people in her past. So, I think that she had such a clear vision of the characters, and even more so because she wrote the script itself. She was there from day one in the development of the project, so I think that that adds a really special element to the film as a whole.
Brenna Llewellyn: Yeah, it makes everything a lot more intimate, I feel.
What did you want to bring to Grace and Aubrey that may have not necessarily been on the page?
Brenna Llewellyn: It can come across that Aubrey is a bit of a sneaky little evil thing at some point, but I didn’t want Aubrey to actually feel that way or think that. So, if it’s on that way in the script, I made sure that everything had a reason; a pure purpose and pure belief. It all came from love. Love was the main thing that she was trying to do; nothing bad.
Kaitlyn Bernard: I think it kind of goes back to what I was saying earlier, having that perfect exterior on the outside and then having a lot of stuff going on internally. Grace is really struggling with a lot of stuff at home, a lot of stuff with her sexuality, and with her breaking up with her boyfriend. There’s a lot going on in her mind.
I think one of the things that I really wanted to show was that Grace isn’t just the popular girl. There’s a lot more to her than that, and I love that she’s written that way. I think it’s important because a lot of times we just see the popular girl, and her being super popular, or being pretty and having a lot of friends. We never see that other side to her. Popularity isn’t everything, I guess, is one of the main messages.
I was a really big fan of watching all seven. How did you interact on set together? Because the chemistry is off the wall. Can you tell me any fun experiences you had with your cast on this film?
Kaitlyn Bernard: Yeah. The first day before we started filming, we actually went to the mall. And we took Polaroids, we took some photobooth pictures. We went into Claire’s, and we did a bunch of things that you would do normally as a high school teen. That was a lot of fun. Even during some of our lunch breaks, we would just hang out. One time, we filmed this music video dancing to Ariana Grande’s “Seven Rings.” We just bonded really well.
I think, especially with horror and thrillers, your days are so long and so emotionally and physically demanding. Really quickly, you find that you form that bond and connection with the rest of the cast because you’re going through so much together. I think that just happens inevitably, and we were just lucky to have an amazing amazing cast. Everyone was just so welcoming and friendly.
Brenna Llewellyn: All of those: the mall, the dances that Keilani (who plays Greed) would choreograph for us. Also, working in a small town together, a lot of us weren’t locals there. We got to just have each other and hang out in our hotels offset. It was a blast, and there’s a lake there too. It was just a beautiful place to bond.