The third feature-length effort from writer-director Richard Bailey, The Dark Sisters, is marked by a deliberate pace, interior monologues, and pastoral images captured by a drone. The story is about sisters Jorie (Nicole Fancher) and Kaidon (Edna Gill) and their vacation in the woods near a lake. Their attempt to reconnect doesn’t go smoothly, as the two share a terrible secret, which is the very thing that tore them apart.
Bailey connects the two sisters to the natural world through a dreamlike lens. Sitting on a screened-in porch or a dock next to the bayou, Jorie and Kaidon dissect their lives, including their secrets and the consequences thereof. With a nod to some of the works of Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni, and early Federico Fellini, the picture unfolds out of sequence and even uses animation at points.
“…attempt to reconnect doesn’t go smoothly, as the two share a terrible secret…”
The Dark Sisters uses a series of voiceovers in the tradition of Eugene O’Neil. These monologues, delivered off-screen, seem a bit clunky and long-winded on the surface. However, as the film’s macabre nature becomes more apparent and the deeper the story dives into the sisters, the more one realizes how what is said and shown are intertwined. It should be noted that the film does not have many conventional spoken lines, except for the occasional existential phrase like ‘The hunter within us all rises” or “The narrative is the thing.” The dialogue becomes like listening to someone recorded during a hypnotherapy session.
The film might work better as a theatrical play along the lines of Jean Genest or Edward Albee. On stage, a work as intimate as this has a better chance with an audience, wherein the emphasis on performance and mood is already heightened. As a film, it bites off more than it can chew, with the concept triumphing over content. Drone footage of the forest, water, moss, wharf, etc., is lovely. And the actors are trying hard to emote something that isn’t there.
The Dark Sisters is a complex film that leaves behind a traditional narrative structure. Its denouement is both shockingly direct and effectively impactful. In the end, you’ll be left with more questions than answers to the role of nature, nurture, and existence, but a lyrical hypnosis takes over while watching Bailey’s film.
"…a lyrical hypnosis takes over while watching Bailey's film."