Cora Tannetti (Jessica Biel) is a hard-working mother in the middle of a seemingly idyllic family life. Distracted and numbed by an intangible terror that stops her from sleeping, Cora finally cracks during a day out and commits a brutal murder, for which no one seems to know the motive. Catching the attention of dysfunctional detective Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman), Cora’s story must be traced back to the source to find the truth.
Rooted in the reverse-whodunit formula that recently saw The Night Of win multiple awards, The Sinner’s relentless eeriness and ever-sinister revelations keep the focus squarely on Biel’s traumatised killer and Pullman’s unyielding detective, as they traverse the depths of Cora’s reality.
With its foundations in suffering, Derek Simonds’ psycho-drama is a breeding ground for good performances. The stars are well supported by Nadia Alexander, as Cora’s younger sister Phoebe, Jacob Pitts, as smug local drug dealer J.D., and a tortured turn from Christopher Abbott, as Cora’s confused, but unflinchingly loyal husband, Mason. Oozing with frustration, tension, and guilt, the performances bring authenticity to the often convenient plot and familiar narrative style.
The Sinner’s lead investigator, in particular, is intolerably close to being a stereotype. Bill Pullman imbues the detective with the self-destructive alienation now customary of TV cops, but his earnest frailty gives balance to a character who is nearly lost in a stylish functionality – existing almost solely to provide progress and edgy allusions to sadomasochism. Chasing Cora’s actions through her viciously Christian childhood home, her incredible relationship with her philosophical little sister, her toxic past relationships, and a lethal techno song, The Sinner’s unnerving paranoia is certainly its best asset, and throughout, Jessica Biel’s trembling killer/victim is at the centre of some of the show’s most disconcerting scenes.
Ideal for Stranger Things fans seeking their next creepy fix, the eight-episode series is structured as a taut emotional thriller, but is cloaked in a horror that will grab your intrigue with style and substance.
The Sinner is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription.