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October 1, 2014

Sisters

by Franz Patrick


Sisters (1973)
★★★ / ★★★★

After appearing on a game show called “Peeping Tom,” Danielle (Margot Kidder), a model and a some time actress, decides to go to dinner with her co-star, Phillip (Lisle Wilson). The date is going smoothly until they are interrupted by Emil (William Finley), Danielle’s ex-husband, who insists that she go home with him immediately.

The next morning, Grace (Jennifer Salt), a reporter for The Staten Island Panorama, notices something strange going on across her apartment. She sees Phillip writing “HELP” in blood on one of Danielle’s windows so she calls the police immediately. But when Grace and two cops search Danielle’s place, there is no body to be found nor is there other evidence that an act of violence had taken place.

“Sisters,” directed by Brian De Palma, is an effective chiller with a healthy balance of camp, suspense, and intrigue. It is apparent that the director enjoys capturing Kidder on film because of her physical beauty along with the heavy French-Canadian accent she employs for her character. There is a certain air of tranquility when the actress’ face is front and center, talking about whatnots, her skin glowing.

Contrast Danielle’s delicateness and elegance to Salt’s self-assertive Grace, her name so ironic and yet so amusing in her own way because she knows what she wants and how to get her way exactly. At times she gets so pushy, she has no problem telling everyone how to do their jobs, from the cops sent by the station to the private detective (Charles Durning) hired by her employers.

Most tense sequences involve the missing dead body. Whenever the camera observes in and around the apartment in question, there is a growing sense of dread, accompanied by a nicely paced suspenseful score by Bernard Herrmann. It is difficult to deny that a material is good when we are given the knowledge where the body is located but we still bite our lips at the slightest possibility of error.

Admittedly, there are actually moments when I did not want the body to be found just so that the tease would last a little bit longer. I was tickled by Grace’s suspicions. It is like watching a great game of hide-and-seek only there is absolutely no chance of the person hiding will jump out of his or her spot because, well, he or she dead. Another masterful trick in Brian De Palma and Louise Rose’s screenplay concerns a sudden shift of interest. While the first half focuses on the corpse, the second half is more about identity and the questions surrounding truths and lies.

However, a critical misstep of the film is the employment of plot conveniences such as conversations suddenly turning into gargantuan hints, possible red herrings, designed for us to make sense of the increasingly bizarre mystery. While it is understandable that seeds are required to be dispersed so that we do not feel cheated by the eventual twists later on, more obvious clues are not necessary.

“Sisters” uses split-screens well. When the technique is used, my eyes are like ping pong balls because both sides of the screen offer something worth seeing. Since my eyes and brain are always involved, it never feels like there is a wasted moment.

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