Dizzying directorial flourishes, numerous homages to Alfred Hitchcock, a cheeky script that viewers will either enjoy or be insulted by – it’s time for a Brian De Palma movie.
Sisters is, for many people, a fine example of classic De Palma. While I didn’t love it as much as some, it’s hard to watch this and not be impressed by the director’s trademark audacity, especially with some fantastic split-screen work that still ranks up there with his very best (and there are a few examples to choose from, of course).
The plot concerns a young woman named Danielle (Margot Kidder) who may not be all that well-balanced, psychologically speaking. But maybe that’s because she has spent so many years dealing with her dangerous sister, Dominique. When a vicious murder takes place in her apartment, Danielle starts to receive plenty of unwanted attention, mainly from a neighbour across the street (Grace Collier, played by Jennifer Salt) who also happens to write for a newspaper. Determined to see justice done, Grace continues to investigate the situation long after the police have ended their enquiries. Meanwhile, Danielle continues to show a decline in her mental health.
It is hard to judge Sisters fairly after the many movies that have come along after it, including a number of them directed by De Palma himself, but I do find it hard to think of any viewers being truly astonished by it back in 1973. A lot of its tricks and attempts to wrong-foot the audience are capably accomplished, but all too familiar, especially to anyone who has enjoyed their fair share of Hitchcock movies.
Kidder is fine in her role, I guess, although she has to mangle a French Canadian accent throughout, but it’s Jennifer Salt who walks away with the movie, wonderful as the one woman who knows exactly what she saw and will follow up on it, even as others continue to disbelieve her. Charles Durning is also great, as a private eye hired by Salt to help her in her investigation, and William Finley is suitably suspicious as the ex-husband of Kidder’s character who can’t seem to leave her alone.
As a movie, this constantly reminds you that it IS a movie, revelling in its own apparent cleverness and technical prowess. Some people may say that De Palma is often guilty of such presentation of material, but it’s much more obvious here than it is in some of his other works. This feels like something experimental, something pushing the boundaries of both taste and style. Yet it still works. Perhaps that’s because the conclusion, when it comes about, is no big surprise, allowing viewers to feel as if they were one step ahead while being led through the twisted plot. Or perhaps it’s just so gloriously trashy at times that you can’t help but have fun with it.
Sisters arrived on Bluray, courtesy of Arrow Video, on Monday 28th April. The extras consist of various featurettes (including an enjoyable visual essay by Justin Humphreys, entitled What The Devil Hath Joined Together: Brian De Palma’s Sisters, that runs for about 47 minutes), a selection of interviews, and the usual reversible sleeve/artwork.
DIRECTOR: BRIAN DE PALMA
WRITER: BRIAN DE PALMA, LOUISA ROSE
STARS: MARGOT KIDDER, JENNIFER SALT, WILLIAM FINLEY, CHARLES DURNING
RUNTIME: 93 MINS APPROX