Sisters (2006)

JULY 31, 2011


In college I had to take a “Humanities” course, which focused on art, music, philosophy, and literature, and while I didn’t mind the typical classes and occasional paper writing too much, I performed miserably at the exams, particularly the music part. Basically the teacher would play a section of some classical piece and we’d have to remember the composer, composition, and year it “dropped”. I got a zero on one test – my brain just cannot hold that sort of information no matter how hard I try. Thus, my viewing experience watching Douglas Buck’s 2006 version of Sisters wasn’t a total loss, because it helped me identify one such piece for good.

See, because of this 'affliction', I often run into the problem of hearing a bit of classical music and having no way of identifying it, because I obviously can’t just Google a few of the lyrics. And recently, it was driving me nuts that I heard one such piece in a trailer for a documentary, recognizing it as being used in several documentary trailers and other places. I spent a good hour Googling the trailer, the movie, terms like “documentary trailer music classical”, etc, before finally giving up. And then, 15 minutes into Sisters, a character puts on said piece and even discusses a bit. So now I know – it’s Bach’s Cello Suite 1. I shant ever forget! Also – stop using it in trailers all the time! Move on to Suite 2 at least.

Anyway, that’s about the only good thing that came out of watching this movie. The original Sisters isn’t one of my favorite De Palma films, but it has a personality and some wonderfully off-kilter touches (final shot with Durning watching the cow, for example), plus some great suspense bits, such as when the police come over with the reporter looking to investigate her claims that she saw a murder. This version strips away all personality, leaving just the meat of the (not particularly great) story, adding almost nothing, and actually making the climax MORE confusing than the original’s.

In fact, the only bit about the entire movie that works only does so if you’ve seen the original, which is a problem when pretty much everything else is a copy. The film actually starts at the institution (solving one of the original’s problems, which is that the institution stuff was clunkily introduced late in the film), and the “normal” twin meets up with a guy in a less silly manner – they both volunteer at the hospital, as opposed to meeting on a very terrible game show and somehow ending up on a date. So I’m thinking that this is going to be a very different movie, and then the male “hero” (Dallas Roberts, who was great in Joshua but has almost nothing to do here) spies a cake shop – oh shit! He’s doomed!!!

But from then on it’s pretty much the same damn movie, except without the humor or directorial style (nice random diopter shot, Buck – too bad there’s a little more to it than that). There’s no detective character, no pestering mother, etc. I’m not one to complain about changes in a remake – the more the better, I say (as long as they are justified). But here they aren’t changes so much as they are omissions – these characters and plot points are dropped but replaced with nothing. There’s a bit more with the doctor (Steven Rea*), but as the movie goes it just feels less and less like its own thing and more and more like a direct lift of the original’s ideas, sans the style or quirky appeal.

And again, the last act is even more confusing than the original’s. I admit I sort of got lost in the big “reveal” at the end of the original, having trouble telling what was just the creation of Grace character’s fractured psyche and what was real, but that was as complicated as Sesame Street compared to the random assault of hallucination/dream-like images, out of nowhere “reveals”, and general batshittery going on at the end of this version. Suddenly, our heroine (Chloe Sevigny, who also deserves better) has dark hair and seemingly believes she is the twin sister, who we discover died during the separation process. We also learn that she herself had a fucked up childhood (sexual abuse is hinted at) and may have been a guest of the hospital herself. Or something.

Now, usually I don’t like to admit that I couldn’t comprehend a movie’s climax, but when the writer (or someone involved with the production) makes an IMDb account under a vague name and offers a “theory” for what it all meant in order to combat all of the “What the fuck is going on?” posts, I think it’s safe to assume it’s not just me – the filmmakers just did a piss poor job making sense out of their story. So thanks, anonymous production person, for clarifying what was happening while offering a little “personally I thought it was a great movie” aside – way to erase any doubt that you’re actually the writer or director.

Other changes are largely of the modern variety; Grace no longer witnesses the murder through a window but via a bunch of spycams that are set up around the apartment, monitored in the doctor’s office that she is snooping around in when the murder occurs, for example. Folks have cell phones and can use the internet to look up information, though the scene with the news footage seems a bit anachronistic – why is it presented like a 1960s or 70s newsreel? Wouldn’t it have been just a few years ago?

Ultimately, the most curious thing about the movie is that Larry Fessenden is listed as one of the executive producers. I assume this has to be some sort of honorary credit, because his entire career is built around original movies, so I can’t imagine he’d make an exception for such a generic, ill-conceived remake (the ONLY true De Palma remake to date, as far as I can tell). I may dislike some of the films he’s produced, but the worst original film is still better than a lazy remake that wastes the time of a talented cast.

What say you?

*Seriously, between this, Company Of Wolves, In Dreams, and Feardotcom, seeing this guy – who I otherwise like – in a horror movie is almost a guarantee I’m going to be yelling “WHAT?” at my TV a lot. Come to think of it, the only thing about The Reaping that I didn’t understand was the point of his character. Is he doing this shit on purpose?


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