Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2019
Images from the Internet
Dark Sister (aka Sororal)
Directed by Sam Barrett
Nakatomi Pictures / Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Entertainment
96 minutes, 2014 / 2019
As I said recently, sometimes you just want some cheesy flick, but at other times, you may want a more thoughtful piece, like this one.
This particular Australian (Perth, to be precise) release was originally named Sororal, meaning “sisterly”; Dark Sister is a much better and easier to remember title for us in the West who had public education. Wise move.
We are introduced early on to “troubled artist” Cassie (Amanda Woodhams), who paints wild images from her dreams, which we learn early on are actually visions of real murders, always from the killer’s perspective, even though each vision is a different killer. And yet, of course, they are all somehow connected.
Rather than being kind of a straightforward story, the director, Sam Barrett seems to have taken notes on early David Cronenberg, mixing science, emotion and psychic abilities (where to begin… The Brood and especiallly Scanners is a good start).
He also uses quite a bit of primary colors in his lighting, giving this a Dario Argento-ish giallo feel that makes the high-emotion more palpable. This has been a bit overused lately, but it is actually quite effective here, as are the extreme close-ups.
Most of the film goes at a slower pace with long shots, but occasionally uses Russ Meyers’ style of micro-editing in certain spots to keep up the energy. Barrett focuses some on the mundane, which is a drawback to some of the modern slash-and-burn velocity films that are drawing attention spans to nil, but I feel he uses it wisely as this is not just another slasher film, but more of a surrealistic approach to cinema. This is no surprise to me considering the Australian cinema history (The Last Wave, Picnic at Hanging Rock, etc.… it can’t all be the high-octane level of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior). There also is a high employment of the fisheye lens.
While Cassie’s visions are violent, and there is a fair amount of blood flowing, there is no gore, which makes it viewable to most audiences except the exceptionally squeamish. There’s more violence and gore on most television crime shows, which has made life a lot easier to watch these kinds of films with the family.
There are a lot of Greek mythology names from The Iliad, such as Hector (fighter), Cassandra (psychic), Diana (goddess of hunting) and Apollo (sun god), which is highly abstractedly to do with the storyline. It’s a cool idea, but you need to watch the whole film to kind of get the connection, though even if you don’t, it can be seen as just a clever device; in other words, if you make the link or not will not affect the story for the viewer.
As for the accents, I have seen other Australian films where I had trouble making out what they were saying, but this is pretty clear; that being said, there is also a caption option on the DVD which I employed, and that helped here and there more for my own hearing issues than accents.
The female characters are way more interesting that the males. Cassie is a strong woman under duress, and her best friend Kelly (Megan Palinkas under a ridiculously large wig reminiscent of somewhere between Dolly Parton and Farrah Fawcett), a flawed human for certain, is compelling. This is also true of Cassie’s monotone-speaking psychologist, Dr. Sosa (Nicola Bartlett). The three male leads, including Kelly’s fiancée Trent (Liam Graham), are kind of whatever (though Jeremy Levi’s Hector does come off the best of them). It’s not the acting, which is fine all the way around, but rather the male characters tend to be boring meat puppets.
While I don’t remember it being discussed in the film, I want to talk a bit about the fashions and décor (too much HGTV on my family’s part, perhaps). This looks like it was ripped from the late ‘70s disco phase. The clothes are full of tight checkered pants and colorful polyester shirts, and even the furniture is totally retro. There are no cell phones or computers, and even the recording devices are reel-to-reel. Definitely a further homage to the Italian giallo ethic. Either way, it looks way cool.
The extras are the captioning and the trailers, including for this film and a couple of other Wild Eye releases. Then there is the director’s commentary, which I’m actually looking forward to (yes, I tend to write the review proper before the extras, not to be overly influenced). Barrett is joined by Christopher DeGroot, who did the music to the film. Needless to say, there is a strong focus on the soundtrack, but mixed in there are a lot of stories about the making of the film. I was looking more for the meaning behind the story; there is some, which proved to be quite helpful in little touches, but I would have liked more about the overarching plot than the amount we are fed about the music (said the reviewer that used to run a punk 'zine...).
This is a thoughtful piece, both in inception and to mull about afterwards. If that’s your pace, it’s a nice addition. If you want a turbo-fueled slash-a-thon, there’s a new Chucky / IT / Annabelle / etc. movie out.