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Friday, Feb. 15, 2008
The sisters of no mercy
By KAORI SHOJI
"Sisters," the remake of the 1973 cult movie by Brian de Palma, is living proof of the culinary adage that fresh is always better. There's so much here that's just been scooped out of the can and nuked in a microwave — most of what had made the original "Sisters" compelling and scary has been reheated to acquire the taste and texture of preservative-laden pap.
It's not a straightforward remake — the ending has been changed and the story is set in the present-day, with director Douglas Buck peppering the movie with cell phones, state-of-the-art security alarm systems and CCTV etc. Oddly, despite the modern trappings, the ambience remains mustily analogue, enhanced by frequent cuts to monochrome footage supposedly taken in the 1980s but resembling something out of a 1930s vampire movie, complete with blurred visuals and staticky sound. This quirky discrepancy aside, there are plot inconsistencies that pile up faster than the body count. By the final reel, you've given up caring and Buck seems to have given up on coherency.
Still, "Sisters" yields some entertainment in its casting as it seems Buck is targeting film buffs. Lou Doillon, the daughter of actress/singer Jane Birkin and French filmmaker Jacques Doillon ("Ponette") and half-sister of Charlotte Gainsbourg, plays the lead, for example, and Chloe Sevigny, the princess of American alternative cinema, also stars. Banking on Sevigny's performance in "Boys Don't Cry," Buck tries to fan some sexual chemistry between her and Doillon, but the flame, at best, only flickers.
The pair meet in a children's psychiatric clinic run by the creepy Dr. Lacan (Stephen Rea). Angelique (Doillon) is his assistant as well as living under his control-freak scrutiny in an apartment opposite his office. Grace (Sevigny) is a reporter who suspects Lacan of abusing his charges and crashes a party at the clinic. She hopes to find some incriminating evidence, but ends up tailing Angelique and a visiting doctor (Dallas Roberts) back to Angelique's place. They have wild sex while Grace spends the night chain-smoking in her car. In the morning, the doctor is brutally stabbed to death and Grace witnesses part of the bloodbath through a window.
She also discovers that Angelique is one half of separated Siamese twins and that Lacan had delivered her and her sister Anabelle (also Doillon). Angelique is the timid "good twin" while Anabelle has an evil streak and Grace is ready to believe that she is the actual killer.
De Palma is famed for revering Hitchcock — the original "Sisters" was heavily influenced by the maestro (especially "Psycho" and "Rear Window") in terms of suspense-building technique and the overt sexuality radiated by Margot Kidder (as Angelique). In this version, Buck tries to be Hitchcockian, but none of his characters (unlike in the original) are remotely likable. Reporter Grace starts off as a crusader to expose Lacan's exploitation of troubled kids, but her incompetence makes it hard to believe she had the nous to snoop around the doc's maximum-security clinic.
Angelique is airy and insubstantial, interested only in self-preservation. The young doctor is annoyingly lame and Lacan is a mishmash of patriarchal delusions and kinky sexual obsession.
And there they all are in a gruesome tableau of lust and gore, the whole thing tinged with the seediness of a house of horrors in a second-rate theme park. De Palma and Hitchcock were masters of seedy horror (that shower curtain in the Bates Motel), but they did it with class.