Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: Perfect Sisters

Slow-moving thriller about murderous sisters could have used a few more thrills.

April 11, 2014

-By Eric Monder


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1397848-Perfect_Sisters_Md.jpg
Based on a true story, Perfect Sisters concerns two sisters who kill their mother as a way out of their miserable, dysfunctional home life. What should have been suspenseful, even terrifying, is surprisingly tiresome thanks to mostly predictable treatment. Viewer interest will be limited.

Set in Toronto in 2003, Fabrizio Filippo and Adam Till’s screenplay centers on the teenage Sandra (Abigail Breslin) and Beth (Georgie Henley) and their little brother, as they try to maintain a normal existence despite the irresponsible acts of their alcoholic mother, Linda (Mira Sorvino). When Linda’s new boyfriend, Bowman (James Russo), enters the picture, he sexually harasses and gropes Beth. The sisters retaliate against Linda for bringing Bowman into their lives: Along with three friends, they plot Linda’s murder. In the end, Sandra is the one who carries it out—drugging and drowning Linda in a bathtub.

The sisters’ “freedom” is short-lived, however. At first, they say their mother died accidentally and the authorities believe them, but later they let it slip to friends that they were responsible. Eventually, law enforcement uses Sandra’s boyfriend and the accomplices to entrap the girls. The ploy works and the sisters are tried and convicted in court, their fates left in the hands of the legal system.

Though “ripped from the headlines,” Perfect Sisters owes a heavy debt to previous films with similar storylines—in particular, Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures. But where the Jackson film is stylized and impressionistic, Perfect Sisters veers from “Law & Order”-style “realism” (with shaky camera to boot) to some occasional jarring touches of Jackson-like fantasy (the girls seeing visions of their mother as sober, attractive and properly maternal).

Despite the familiar elements, the story had the potential to grip us with its focus on the desperation of disaffected youth. There are some memorable moments—the murder, in particular—but certainly not enough during the plodding, dreary setup taking up the first hour of the film. By contrast, the last half-hour is much more exciting but tries to cover too much ground in too short a time (the rift with friends, the investigation, the entrapment, the interrogation, the trial, etc.)

On the artistic end, Stan Brooks’ direction is flat and uninspired, though not incompetent. The cast tries to make the characters more defined than the script allows; the only weak link is Zak Santiago as the detective, a very poor performance. Cinematographer Stéphanie Anne Weber Biron deserves credit for creating some disturbing images (a great low-angle shot of Sorvino drowning in the bathtub and another of the girls awaiting their trial verdict).

In big ways and small, the screenplay is the real killer, begging too many questions. What happened to the little brother? If Beth is so tech-savvy by 2004 standards, then why is she dressed in dated, clichéd Goth garb? Annoying details like this don’t help this most imperfect film.

Click here for cast & crew information.


Film Review: Perfect Sisters

Slow-moving thriller about murderous sisters could have used a few more thrills.

April 11, 2014

-By Eric Monder


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1397848-Perfect_Sisters_Md.jpg

Based on a true story, Perfect Sisters concerns two sisters who kill their mother as a way out of their miserable, dysfunctional home life. What should have been suspenseful, even terrifying, is surprisingly tiresome thanks to mostly predictable treatment. Viewer interest will be limited.

Set in Toronto in 2003, Fabrizio Filippo and Adam Till’s screenplay centers on the teenage Sandra (Abigail Breslin) and Beth (Georgie Henley) and their little brother, as they try to maintain a normal existence despite the irresponsible acts of their alcoholic mother, Linda (Mira Sorvino). When Linda’s new boyfriend, Bowman (James Russo), enters the picture, he sexually harasses and gropes Beth. The sisters retaliate against Linda for bringing Bowman into their lives: Along with three friends, they plot Linda’s murder. In the end, Sandra is the one who carries it out—drugging and drowning Linda in a bathtub.

The sisters’ “freedom” is short-lived, however. At first, they say their mother died accidentally and the authorities believe them, but later they let it slip to friends that they were responsible. Eventually, law enforcement uses Sandra’s boyfriend and the accomplices to entrap the girls. The ploy works and the sisters are tried and convicted in court, their fates left in the hands of the legal system.

Though “ripped from the headlines,” Perfect Sisters owes a heavy debt to previous films with similar storylines—in particular, Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures. But where the Jackson film is stylized and impressionistic, Perfect Sisters veers from “Law & Order”-style “realism” (with shaky camera to boot) to some occasional jarring touches of Jackson-like fantasy (the girls seeing visions of their mother as sober, attractive and properly maternal).

Despite the familiar elements, the story had the potential to grip us with its focus on the desperation of disaffected youth. There are some memorable moments—the murder, in particular—but certainly not enough during the plodding, dreary setup taking up the first hour of the film. By contrast, the last half-hour is much more exciting but tries to cover too much ground in too short a time (the rift with friends, the investigation, the entrapment, the interrogation, the trial, etc.)

On the artistic end, Stan Brooks’ direction is flat and uninspired, though not incompetent. The cast tries to make the characters more defined than the script allows; the only weak link is Zak Santiago as the detective, a very poor performance. Cinematographer Stéphanie Anne Weber Biron deserves credit for creating some disturbing images (a great low-angle shot of Sorvino drowning in the bathtub and another of the girls awaiting their trial verdict).

In big ways and small, the screenplay is the real killer, begging too many questions. What happened to the little brother? If Beth is so tech-savvy by 2004 standards, then why is she dressed in dated, clichéd Goth garb? Annoying details like this don’t help this most imperfect film.

Click here for cast & crew information.
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