Brian De Palma
Margot Kidder - Danielle Breton/ Dominique Blanchion
Jennifer Salt - Grace Collier
Charles Durning - Joseph Larch
William Finley - Emil Breton
Lisle Wilson - Phillip Woode
Genre - Horror/Thriller
Running Time - 93 Minutes
Score - 3 Howls Outta 4
I've always been fascinated by news of Siamese Twins. How does it happen? Why does it happen? It must be frustrating for those who have to deal with it. Surgeries and wondering if the chances of survival after separation must be Hell. I couldn't even imagine what these people suffering with this condition must go through - both physically and mentally.
Inspired by an article about Dasha and Masha, two Soviet Siamese twins in the late 1960s, director Brian De Palma decided to write and direct a psychological thriller called SISTERS. Using many Hitchcockian techniques to tell his story, De Palma creates a film that not only hints at the physical and emotional trauma a Siamese Twin separation can cause, but does it involving a twisted murder mystery that Hitchcock would probably be proud of.
We begin with a game show called Peeping Tom, where contestants must answer what some guy will do while watching a blind girl undress in front of him. The girl isn't really blind, but a French-Canadian model/actress named Danielle (Margot Kidder). The man watching her is really an advertising manager for a newspaper named Philip (Lisle Wilson). After the show is over, the two go out on a date. Unfortunately, Danielle's ex-husband Emile (William Finley) is stalking her for whatever reason, leading Danielle and Philip to head to her apartment in Staten Island, New York. The two have a night cap with some after-dinner sex.
Philip wakes up, hearing Danielle argue with her sister Dominique [who happens to be Danielle's separated Siamese Twin] in the next room. He finds out that it's both their birthdays and decides to buy a cake for the two sisters. However, it turns out to be the last thing he ever does as he's brutally murdered. A nosy reporter named Grace (Jennifer Salt) sees the entire thing from her apartment across the street, immediately calling the cops. Since Philip was a black man, the cops don't really take the whole thing all too seriously. Frustrated, Grace decides to take it to herself to find out what really happened and prove that she's right, even hiring a private detective (Charles Durning) to help her. However, Grace learns the truth is more twisted and disturbing than she had ever anticipated.
SISTERS is one of Brian De Palma's earliest films during his peak as a director. It just loves screwing with your head as you try and figure out what's really going on here, although the ending is a bit convoluted and weird. Still, De Palma has his Hitchcockian boner with this one, not hiding who influenced him while making this picture.
The main theme of the film is obviously voyeurism. De Palma is known for using split-screen techniques to show us EVERYTHING that is going on in a single moment. The game show is called Peeping Tom. The murder that occurs in Danielle's apartment is seen by Grace through her window. We have a private investigator who likes to spy on people. We have the footage of Danielle and Dominique as Siamese Twins that is shown a few times during the film. It's evident what De Palma is trying to say: we are a bunch of Peeping Toms. This has never been more true in our current society, where we have reality shows and YouTube [even watching movies like SISTERS] that allows us to watch other people's lives. We all like to watch, even if it does get us in trouble sometimes. But then again at the same time, who's watching us?
The story is your standard psychological thriller. We connect with characters, we see a crime happen between these characters, and then we learn what's really going on that led to that crime and its cover-up. It's told very well and while a bit convoluted [it has to be really for this story to work], you're never bored by what you're watching and actually a bit surprised when things don't exactly seem to be. I do think De Palma ruined a bit of the film's pace by switching focus from Danielle to Grace in the second act of the film. When we meet Danielle, we are incredibly fascinated with the character. She's extremely complex and something about her is so mysterious that we want to learn more about her. But once the crime happens, the film focuses on the nosy and annoying reporter, Grace. She's not a horrible character by any means, but she's so bitchy and such a nag that you don't want to watch more than 10 minutes of this woman at a time. Plus she makes such the dumbest moves towards the end that you can't help but hope she gets what she deserves. I don't mind curious people but they're not fascinating to watch in the slightest.
And like I mentioned before, the ending is convoluted in order to end the story properly. It's very weird and very twisted, even leaving certain plot elements open. And it's obvious De Palma left these plot-holes in the film intentionally probably because he wanted us to use our imagination to wonder what would happen to these characters. Still, it's not a horrible ending in the slightest but most people will probably be frustrated that it wasn't exactly closed under lock and key.
Speaking of Brian De Palma, his direction here is better than his screenplay. The man knows what he's doing behind the camera, using things that Hitchcock used to do as a homage to his idol. The film is very suspenseful and nicely paced visually, mixing elements of REAR WINDOW and PSYCHO [even using Bernard Herrmann, the composer for PSYCHO, to score SISTERS] into one movie. The editing is spot-on and perfect. I love the split-screen stuff during the murder and the few minutes leading to Grace's introduction into the film. I loved it in his later film, CARRIE, and I loved it more here. The flashback scene towards the end is so freaky that it's brilliant. It was so surreal and then shot in black and white to give it a dreamlike effect. It's just a beautifully directed film that I think future directors should really take a look at.
The acting was excellent here as well from everyone. Margot Kidder is fantastic as Danielle, giving a spot-on French-Canadian accent and being extremely charming and full of depth. I think SISTERS may be the best performance Kidder has ever given. I really liked her and her boobs. She also does good as someone else too, but I'll leave it at that. Jennifer Salt was great in annoying me as the nosy reporter, Grace. I didn't really like her character all that much but she gave a very nice performance. William Finley creeped me out as Emile. What a nutjob and he's not really all that appealing to look at here either. I'd walk away from this guy if he ever comes towards me. Yeesh. Charles Durning was funny as the private investigator. And Lisle Wilson was very likeable as poor Philip. I dug his vibe.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE NEVER WISHING SOMEONE HAPPY BIRTHDAY FACE-TO-FACE AGAIN
- Don't watch a blind girl strip in front of you. You'll probably be on a TV game show called Peeping Tom. Or most likely, on that crime show Snapped when the blind girl, who really can see and is being a sneaky bitch, beats you to death with her walking stick. Not seeing is believing, ya dig?
- Danielle's ex-husband continues to stalk her after their divorce. Geez, he's like the male Jennifer Aniston. Get over it!
- Danielle got it on with Philip the first night they met. I guess she was in the mood for a Snickers. I hope she didn't get a Tootsie Roll instead.
- Don't surprise a French-Canadian chick with a birthday cake. She'll make her wish come true by stabbing you to death. Or she'll make her wish come true by singing you that annoying TITANIC song. Neither one is pleasant.
- Philip's dead boy was placed inside a folding sofa. I've heard about resting in peace, but that's just silly.
- Detective Spinelli doesn't feel that Philip's death is a big dead since his "people" always stab each other. Wrong. White people stab. Black people pop caps in your ass. Big difference, you ignorant fuck!
- Joseph, the private investigator, went to the Brooklyn School of Modern Investigation. I guess he got a B.S. degree in the subject. How fitting.
- Germs can come through phone wires. That explains why I feel nauseous anytime a telemarketer talks my ear off. Next time I won't answer.
- Grace was given a drug that brainwashed her into believing there was no murder. Now I see the strategy behind the O.J. Simpson 1994 defense team. Nice play, guys!
THE FINAL HOWL
SISTERS is an entertaining little horror/thriller that keeps you interested from beginning to end. I wish I saw more Danielle and less Grace, but what can you do? At least Brian De Palma brings his A-game here by giving the viewer a nice homage to Hitchcock that's very pleasing to the eye. A definite recommendation for a rental and a buy if you like this one.