A Review of Brian DePalma's Sisters

First off, I know that many would want me to be reviewing whatever new blockbuster comes out rather than continuing to indulge in my own Netflix queue.  Well, I say that show me a blockbuster that is worthwhile and I will be happy to address it.  Right now, there is nothing except studios continuing to hypnotize audiences into parting with money and stating that they are entertained.  It worked its magic last summer, with the release of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen a film that was derided by critics but embraced by audiences.  Many stated that this was proof critics were no longer necessary, as we could no longer gauge public taste.  Well, it is hardly our job to reflect on public taste.  It is our job to explain our own taste; something the mass audience is unable or downright unwilling to do.  A sample “critique” of Transformers: “I liked it, it had a lot of action.”  What does that even mean? It means that the mind is so ill formed that so long as something happens, even if it is meaningless, it is satisfied.  I will wait for a blockbuster that actually means something before I even bother to critique it. Until that happens, I will be trying to share films I actually find interesting.
So, anyway,  onto Brian De Palma’s Sisters, a wonderful romp that deals with French Canadians, conjoined twins, and murder.   A film that features Margot Kidder putting on a French accent and Jennifer Salt looking an awful lot like the female lead in Evil Dead 2.  It also features Brian De Palma stealing as much as he possibly can from Hitchcock without anyone noticing.

I am not sure whether that is a compliment or a derisive statement.  There are certainly worse things that can be done than paying homage (or even ripping of) Hitchcock.  The film is still wonderfully atmospheric and quite tense. De Palma learned his lessons well.  But that does not mean he should necessarily be forgiven for not trying to carve his own territory.

The film is about a woman living in New York named Danielle Brenton (Kidder) who is on a game show with a man that she later goes on a date with. They hit it off well, until her sister (and former conjoined twin) Dominique breaks into the apartment and murders him.  Grace Collier (Salt) witnesses the murder but no one believes that any such crime was committed after the police fail to find a body.  Grace decides to solve the murder for herself by hiring a private detective and following Brenton.

Now, the plot I have described would probably lead to a very well executed thriller.  And that is certainly the case; the film is quite atmospheric and does manage to capture the spirit of Hitchcock very nicely.  Kidder is also is as good here as she ever has been (or will be).  The third act is an excellent showcase of technique – so much information is told in the last twenty minutes that it may very well be impossible to assimilate it all at once.

Plus, the way it relates sisters and any siblings to each other is quite good.  Basically, the two sisters keep trying to outdo the other with only half an id to split among themselves.  One is obsessed with love, the other violence.  “I have never hurt anyone in my life” one proclaims.  The other hurts everyone – their separation did more than just separate their body.  They separated their very mind into two distinct beings that cannot reconcile the change.  Grace merely becomes an outlet of this obsession – she is a stalker to fill in the role of one of the sisters when the other lets herself become lazy.  The film is not about Grace; it is about Danielle.  Grace merely becomes the observer that allows her psychosis to continue.

The problem is that it is not very original.  Even at the time, it did not differentiate itself enough from the Hitchcock ouvere to be original.  I know this sounds like a shallow complaint.  But that kept coming into my mind – “shouldn’t I be watching something by Hitchcock by instead?”  A good ripoff (even a great one such as this) is still a rip off.  De Palma realized this and changed his own style to…still keep the Hitchcock influences but developed his own.  So yes, this movie is good for an early De Palma film.  But it is still early where he was emulating rather than being a true artist yet.

Oh, and no, I am not sure quite yet what the ambiguous ending means either.  I believe it has something to do with how life has become trivialized due to the sensationalism associated with murder, but don’t ever quote me on that.

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