[Film Review] Sisters (1973)

Sisters poster

Title: Sisters
Year: 1973
Country: USA
Language: English, French
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Director: Brian De Palma
Brian De Palma
Louisa Rose
Music: Bernard Herrmann
Cinematography: Gregory Sandor
Margot Kidder
Jennifer Salt
William Finley
Charles Durning
Lisle Wilson
Barnard Hughes
Dolph Sweet
Mary Davenport
Justine Johnston
Olympia Dukakis
Burt Richards
Rating: 6.8/10

A young French-Canadian model and would-be actress Danielle Breton (Kidder) in New York City, meets cute with a black advertising salesman Philip Woode (Wilson), in a proto-reality show “Peeping Tom”, which conspicuously heralds director Brian De Palma’s intrigue of voyeurism in this lurid genre piece: the urge of killing from a Siamese twin under severe psychological pressure and personality disorder, who has been recently successfully severed from her sister.

Yes, Danielle has a twin sister Dominique, De Palma and co-writer Louisa Rose’s script doesn’t shy away from steadily implicating that Dominique is the insidious killer who lurks behind the camera, initiates conversations with the personable Danielle, and mercilessly assaults any man who gets intimate with her lovable sister, an emblem of the evil side of the conjoined anomaly, meantime, a bespectacled, bulged-eyed, gangling Emil Breton (Finley), Danielle’s ex-husband, looks equally suspicious and sinister with his hidden agenda.

Philip is the jinxed victim who thinks he is getting lucky, but fails to notice that he overstays his welcome due to his own goodwill, how ironic is that? Before succumbing to death, however clumsily, at least he manages to catch the attraction of Grace Collier (Salt), the journalist living in the building across Danielle’s apartment, immediately she alerts the police force, but as outlined by the split screen dynamically chronicling the paralleled actions, contrasting the crime scene where Danielle and Emil hastily conceal the dead body (thanks for ruining couch bed for me Mr. De Palma) and clean up the blood, with the detectives dilly-dally their action (racism and sexism are heedfully hinted here) to check Danielle’s apartment against Grace’s mounting keenness and impatience. What De Palma devises is a stylish and effective cinematic machination, but he also wears his heart on his sleeve, which inconveniently renders the not-so-convoluted story an unwelcome feeling of arbitrariness.

Grace, hogs the limelight thereafter, vigilantly plays detective, digs into the backstories of Danielle and hopes for an exposé, thanks to the assistance of a private eye Joseph Larch (Durning), who will later undertake a tailing mission to a bizarre and goofy cul-de-sac (and literally, the ending of the film). Grace is characterized as an uncouth, career-pursuing knucklehead, we understand that she is a woman of principle, works hard to break the glass ceiling, but her undisguised single-mindedness and wanting for etiquette turn herself into an irritant, consequently pare down viewers’ investment into her dangerous pursuit, which ends up in a mental hospital, where Emil finally gives his tell-all recount and discloses the darkest secret of Danielle, while Grace’s own sanity will be forever compromised by Emil’s hypnotic brainwash. Undeniably, this part is the meat of the story, it is presented from a peculiar angle of an eyeball, with a surreal veneer onto the sensational tale-of-misery by its grotesque tableaux vivants and freaky color scheme, yet, for my money, Bernard Herrmann’s intrusive score is a shade shrill and nerve-racking.

Margot Kidder deserves some kudos for her dualistic impersonation and nails a not-so-irritating French accent, to corroborate her undervalued versatility. It would also turn out to be a wonderful idea for Jennifer Salt to give up acting and become a successful TV producer and writer instead. On the first impression, SISTERS is a testimony of De Palma’s forte: injecting a dash of gore into a deeply unsettling psycho-drama, but that doesn’t make him an essential master, because a certain requirement of gravitas and punctiliousness is something uniformly absent from most of his works I have watched.

Oscar 1973  Sisters


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