‘Sisters’ or — Twins of Evil?

Peeping? Voyeurism? Sex? Revealing the baddie in the crowd during an early panning shot? Split screen frenzy? It can only mean one thing — it’s Brian De Palma!

Grace Collier, an investigative reporter, witnesses a horrific murder in the apartment across her street. She frantically calls the police who wait for her outside the building as inside, thanks to the magic of cinema, we simultaneously watch the perpetrators cleaning up the mess in a desperate attempt to hide the body and the crime before the cops arrive. When they do reach the apartment the police and Grace find no evidence of murder, just a rather bemused young woman called Danielle, a model from French Canada.

Yet Grace is convinced by what she saw and with a little digging and help from a private investigator she discovers that Danielle is part of the once famous Blanchion sisters, Canada’s first conjoined twins. Unfortunately Danielle’s twin sister Dominique tragically died during the separation… or did she?

Despite all the usual ingredients De Palma’s 1972 psychological thriller ‘Sisters’ (1972) feels very much the work of a director finding his feet, trying certain ideas out, exploring and working through specific influences so even though it’s an enjoyable slice of sexually driven, violent silliness it, for me, doesn’t quite hang together as well as his best work. Then again it’s only 1972, De Palma’s not long started his career and his best work is extremely good indeed so let’s cut the guy some slack for now.

Technically there’s a lot that’s impressive about ‘Sisters’ especially the split screen work along with some very nice tracking shots. There’s the obvious homage to Hitchcock and Godard etc but De Palma still keeps this his own vision, but that could be where the issues lie with a few conveniences lurking in the script an later De Palma would’ve ironed out. So there are a couple of incidents that feel weaker or more contrived than others (the dropping of a cake might be one of them) along with a reliance on madness or hypnotism to escape certain plot beats or functioning as easy explanations for motives. It’s not very subtle… but this is De Palma and I never want him to be subtle for a second.

‘Sisters’ also contains quite a bit of De Palma’s style of humour with a number of sly lines and barbs scattered throughout, and I’m pretty sure the inclusion of a Dr Milius is an in-joke to contemporary directors. Margot Kidder is great as Danielle and Dominique, De Palma regular (for a few years anyway) William Finley is suitably creepy as Emil Breton and Jennifer Salt plays a plucky lead. Bernard Herrman’s score reaches the appropriately hysterical heights when needed, nicely mixing acoustic and electronic instruments (is that a theramin in the mix somewhere?) even if it does, oddly, make the soundtrack come across as a little dated or anachronistic at times; the soundtrack just feels older than ’72 to me.

‘Sisters’ is a good thriller with a lot of style and technical savvy. It’s neither perfect nor De Palma’s best but it’s certainly by far from being a blotch on his career. It also covers territory the director will tackle again later in his life — split personalities, flashbacks to experiments by father figures, actors playing twin roles — in ‘Raising Cain’ (1992), whether or not to more success is down to personal taste, but both are worth checking out.

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Comedy writer, radio producer and director of large scale audio features.

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Colin Edwards

Comedy writer, radio producer and director of large scale audio features.