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Anchor Bay presents
Sister Sister (1987)

"I saw the way you were lookin' at Lucy. No one gets into her pants...ever."
- Etienne (Benjamin Mouton)

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: January 25, 2001

Stars: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judith Ivey, Eric Stoltz
Other Stars: Dennis Lipscomb, Benjamin Mouton
Director: Bill Condon

Manufacturer: DVCC
MPAA Rating: R for (nudity, sexual content, violence)
Run Time: 01h:28m:10s
Release Date: January 16, 2001
UPC: 013131132397
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- B+B-B+ B-

DVD Review

Set in the picturesque swamps of Louisiana, Sister Sister (not to be confused with the Brian DePalma movie, Sisters) tells a very interesting, subtle story. Every now and then, a movie comes along that defies easy categorization, and this is certainly one of them. This is a good thing, though, as the seamless blend of style applied here results in a very satisfying movie. Mixing a rich romantic story with a clever thriller twist, Sister Sister may well find itself with a new group of appreciative fans after having been long lost in semi-obscurity.

Lucy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Charolette (Judith Ivey) are two sisters who run a fancy bed-and-breakfast in the middle of the Louisiana Bayou. While Charolette is the more mature, business-like figure, Lucy is strangely immature and naïve. Lucy also hides many emotions, including a belief that ghosts inhabit the swaps, and a yearning for a loving relationship, or at the very least, an honest desire for sex. Also part of the crew is Etienne (Benjamin Mouton), a handyman who has been a close friend of Lucy's since childhood. The problem is that Charolette is a bit overprotective of Lucy and controls her life to the degree where she is virtually prevented from exploring any element of her personality. This creates a tension between the three people that soon grows when guests show up.

Amongst their latest wave of guests is Matt (Eric Stoltz), a fairly classy Congressional aide getting away for holiday. Very quickly, Matt takes to Lucy and a subtle romance develops. Trouble brews, though, when Etienne gets jealous and Charolette fears Lucy's independent sexuality. Eventually, a darkness descends onto the situation when this wedge between the family members manifests itself as suspicion, jealousy, and even, perhaps, murder?

Released right in the middle of the 1980's horror boom, Sister Sister avoids many pitfalls of the genre, and instead takes the route of creating a opulent story. The biggest elements are Bill Condon's stylish direction and the wonderful cinematography. Most of the tension and fear in the movie is created through these atmospherics, and Condon largely omits endless false scares or predictable 'slasher' techniques. Once the more unusual elements kick in (about halfway through), there are some really creative forces at work, keeping things interesting and not too predictable. I especially liked the fact that none of the characters really give you clear messages as to whose perspective you're supposed to be looking from (there is no central character), although Bill Condon cites this as a major flaw (in the commentary). Perhaps the best compliment to Sister Sister is that it keeps you guessing a bit and delivers some healthy scares in unusual ways.

The casting is extremely effective here, with Jennifer Jason Leigh taking top honors as the innocent, but neurotic Lucy. Judith Ivey is nicely used in a very expansive role, where she really gets to do a lot. Eric Stoltz may not seem particularly effective at first, but he grows into the role pretty well, and you understand the motivations later in the film. The supporting cast all holds everything up well, and there's a good thread of believability through the whole thing. Also worth mentioning is the wonderful musical score by Richard Einhorn (who recently re-scored the legendary silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc), that adds a lot of class and style to the picture.

The effective blend of romance and terror makes for a unique experience here. This is certainly a superior thriller and could have been incredibly bland in the wrong hands. Here, Bill Condon takes the source material and manipulates it a bit to appeal to a broader audience. Sister Sister shouldn't be taken too seriously, but at the same time, it does command a certain amount of respect.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Widescreened at 2:35:1 (for the first time on home video), the film looks good throughout, but suffers excessive grain and diffusion. Some of this is purposeful, but some of the softness of the image seems to bring out shimmer and slight artifacts in certain areas. The diffusion effect causes a slight bit of blur when combined with the anamorphic enhancement. It would seem, though, that this is mainly a problem with the source print, as even at full zoom, the picture is amazingly watchable. It's obvious time was taken to improve the film (there is no damage; color balance and black level are great), but the softness can be something of a curse in some sequences.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby 5.1 audio is pretty good for a mainly dialogue film. There is some minor directionality in the fronts, and there are some impressive stereo effects and ambience. Surrounds get used for more atmospheric enhancement (rain, crickets, thunder) and are used pretty much wherever applicable. At times the dialogue is a slight bit muddy, but everything is well balanced. The 2.0 Surround audio is a little quieter and not as dynamic. Surrounds don't get the same kind of work out, and it feels flatter.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 26 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Bill Condon
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Bill Condon biography/filmography.
Extras Review: The audio commentary with Bill Condon is very good, overall. Condon discusses many aspects of the film's production and history, but he doesn't get too scene specific. My only complaint is that the commentary stops for long gaps at certain points. Still, Condon provides a good deal of information and production anecdotes making the track worth a listen.

Three deleted scenes are available with or without Bill Condon commentary. Unfortunately, the scenes are in badly damaged condition, making them very hard to watch. They do add some insight into elements of the original cut of the film (before test screenings forced changes).

The original trailer (dumb, exploitative, and filled with spoilers) is present, as well as a lengthy biography of Condon, whose recent film, Gods and Monsters, has earned him a lot of praise (and deservedly so).

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

Bill Condon's first feature film is, in many ways, a triumph of style and craft over a so-so script. It's a very entertaining, atmospheric thriller that would work well for those without the stomach for gorier movies in the same spirit. Recommended.

 


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