Sisters, 1972. 9/10

The set-up for this is a surrealist heaven. Layers of deception, role-playing, a game show, stalking, and some ominous genetic imagery; quickly followed by split personality/doppelganger stuff. Aided, abetted, perhaps, by some mysterious medications. Phillip (Lisle Wilson) seems a level-headed lucky guy, having met and slept with the gorgeous, though mysterious Danielle (Margot Kidder). Her ex-husband Emil (William Finley) literally stakes out her place; while Danielle does a nice Psycho-assault (complete with queasy death-rattle music) on Phillip. That’s a lot of drama for just the first thirty minutes.

A couple of things pop-up: Danielle is clearly nuts–but where’s her ‘sister’ Dominique? whom she’s just been apparently talking to?; and what’s the motivation for the murder? She obviously hit it off with Phillip. I’ve got to admit that I cheated–by reading user and critic reviews on this site before watching Sisters. Still, I certainly would’ve had these questions had I not been clued-in on the deal (It’s not possible to say that I know what happens, anyway). The split-screen device cleverly avoids adding scenes while helping to build tension and momentum. Grace (Jennifer Salt) plays the Rear Window-esque onlooker.

Like others have said, the police are incredibly blase about Grace’s observations. The point that the cops think she’s biased against them makes sense, but she has no reason to make anything up about Danielle. Besides, Grace asks their help; what better way to show what cops are really about, other than to have them go about their business? Having said that, they allow Grace to poke around in Danielle’s apartment. Another thing: why does Emil suddenly become Danielle’s best buddy, to the extent of tidying up for her after the murder?

Things take on an absurdist tinge once the private detective Joseph (Charles Durning) gets involved. His investigation has a campy, game-like feel, particularly regarding the partnership that he forms with Grace. Then the surreal comes back into focus with the apparent documentary on Danielle/Dominique as conjoined twins. Meanwhile, Joseph tails the van on its way to Canada with Phillip’s body. Grace has to deal with assorted bizarre characters at the Victorian ‘clinic’. In true asylum horror movie fashion, every stray person becomes a captured ‘guest’.

The long, nightmare-laced scenes, thoroughly frightening, with every hint of horror given life, rots Grace’s mind. Again, there’s a lurid aspect, as we experience her seeing people observing her. It’s less surprising that Danielle gives Emil the sharp end of the scalpel; as he is responsible for warping Danielle–probably not intentionally. I have to qualify every statement, especially regarding the endgame, as it’s hard to tell what, if anything, should be taken at face-value. Very strangely, Grace becomes Dominique–to the extent of covering up for Danielle. In a narrative full of reversals and surprises, now it’s the police trying to tell her that Phillip’s murder really happened. The only real anchor we’re left with is Joseph (who of course played a part in one of Grace’s nightmares), who’s still eye-balling the resting place of Phillip’s body.

Some reviewers feel that Sisters starts off well, then tails off. There’s a change of tone, certainly; but I don’t think the segue from surrealist to mere eccentricity hurts. It’s already difficult to suspend disbelief, it would pretty much be impossible to buy the premise if there weren’t the shift towards a slightly more tangible atmosphere. Sisters plays with the boundaries of perception. And, for the most part, it wins. This is so imaginative that it’s surprising that there aren’t more dead ends and plot holes. Highly recommended. 9/10.

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