Studio: Criterion

Dec 07, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Danielle (Margot Kidder) is a gorgeous, French Canadian model living on Staten Island. Though on first glance she appears like any other aspiring actress, her highly unusual past rapidly comes to light. She has a sister, Dominique (also Kidder), who was once her Siamese twin – they were surgically separated not long ago, and while Danielle appears to be coping fine, Dominique has remained confined to an institution. Danielle herself must pop pills to maintain her mental stability, all the while trying to build a life for herself and stay clear of her controlling ex-husband.

That’s, at least, where the film begins, but nothing in Sisters is as it seems.

As is par for the course with many De Palma films, Sisters is jammed with homages to the cinema that came before it: mostly, of course, to Hitchcock – the movie is heavily indebted to both Psycho and Rear Window – but with other inspirations peppered in, such as a fantastic opening fake-out that makes cheeky allusion to Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom. Kidder is given top billing alongside Jennifer Salt, who plays newspaper columnist Grace Collier, a neighbor of Danielle’s who is convinced she witnessed the young model brutally murder a guest in her apartment. With the police unwilling to believe her Grace launches her own investigation into the crime, uncovering increasingly disturbing details about Danielle’s former life.

Sisters’ biggest shocks and reveals are of a mostly lurid variety, and with lesser vision Sisters would have been nothing more than your average, cheap horror-thriller. While not quite as stylish as the giallos Argento and Bava were producing over in Italy in the same era, there are some very cool filmic flourishes in Sisters: most notably, De Palma’s bountiful use of splitscreen. (In perhaps the film’s best-known sequence, Danielle and her co-conspirator rush to cover up a murder scene on one side of the screen, while Grace pleads with two disinterested cops to investigate the killing on the other; as the scene plays out, the two threads eventually converge at Danielle's apartment door.) Other memorable passages include a long, Rope-inspired tracking shot immediately following the crime, and a terrifying dream sequence in which the horrifying truth about Danielle’s past finally comes clear. While De Palma's proved many times that he can imitate Hitchcock like the best of them, he’s at his best when his original ideas are given room front and center. This happens enough in Sisters to make it one of his better early-career outings.

Criterion’s new Blu-ray edition of Sisters comes as a long-awaited upgrade to their prior (now almost 20 years old) DVD edition. Beyond the obvious jump in image quality from anamorphic DVD to a 1080P Blu-ray, this edition sports an all-new 4K restoration overseen by De Palma himself. It’s far more rich, color-wise, than the old version, and shows off the sort of film grain you’d expect from this era and budget. (This almost gives it a faux-grindhouse quality, which feels right for the sensationalized subject matter.) All in all, it’s a big step upward. Highlights among the extras include a lengthy interview with actress Jennifer Salt, a clip of Margot Kidder on The Dick Cavett Show, and many great archival interviews with and about De Palma.



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