Perfect Sisters (2014) Review.
**WARNING MAY CONTAIN SOME SPOILERS**
Based on a True Story.
Perfect Sisters is a harrowing depiction of an infamous Canadian crime where two teenage sisters plotted and succeeded to murder their alcoholic mother in the bathtub in 2003. Adapted from Bob Mitchell’s book Class Project: How to Kill a Mother, director Stanely M. Brooks captures a grim outlook on one of the most notorious young murder crimes of the past decade.
Sandra and Elizabeth ‘Beth’ Andersen have always stuck together. For teenage girls they have a succession of problems to deal with outside of the superficial world of high school. Their mother Linda is an alcoholic and fails to hold down every job she has. On top of that they have seen a number of abusive boyfriends come and go and have to continually shield their younger brother from the psychological and physical damage that erupts within their family. When Linda begins a relationship with another unsavoury partner who sexually assaults younger daughter Beth and violently hits their little brother as well as a mountain of financial problems, the girls decide enough is enough and convince themselves their lives would be better without their mother in it.
Two phenomenal young actresses play the broken sisters who resort to drastic measures in order to improve their lives. Abigail Breslin shone through almost ten years ago with her breakout role in indie family comedy/drama Little Miss Sunshine (2006); now aged eighteen she continues to develop into a strong actress delivering a powerhouse performance as the tortured teenager forced to grow up way before her time. She plays Sandra with complexity, she’s the child who takes responsibility for her incompetent mother, having to keep her head together for the sake of her siblings while at the same time striving for popularity amongst her peers and resorting to telling extraordinary stories for attention. She plays Sandra’s downward spiral devastatingly in one of the best performances of the year. British actress Georgie Henley compliments Breslin perfectly as younger sister Beth. Known for her role in fantasy franchise The Chronicles of Narnia (2005-2010), her character in this film is a complete contrast from anything she’s previously done. Henley depicts Beth as malicious and conniving but underneath the dyed black hair and gothic clothing she is a vulnerable little girl trying to survive through life.
Breslin and Henley’s layered performances drive the film and convince us of their sisterly bond. They share a believable chemistry that keeps us compelled throughout, this is a credit to writers Fab Filippo and Adam Till. Within their screenplay they have created well developed characters that leads us to garner both empathy and disdain for them. What we have are two distant young girls who display sociopathic tendencies following a rough upbringing.
Justice has certainly been done in adapting the case into a film context as best as it possibly can; the names used in the film and in the actual documentation of the case have been changed as the girls identities were protected as they were both minors at the time of their trial. We can’t know for sure how things would have happened but everything that plays out in the film feels very real bringing in a striking and emotional impact. It doesn’t feel exploitative my any means, what Perfect Sisters does is provide an insight into why this awful crime took place without glamorizing it.
Mira Sorvino plays the mother Linda, powerfully. She is a useless and out of control figure that doesn’t place her children’t best interests first and makes continuous empty promises. She relies on men to provide for her financially despite the damage it causes to all three of her offspring. Her character is incredibly pathetic, constantly feeling sorry for herself and expecting others to clean up her messes. She runs away from her problems rather than face them which is one of the first things we learn about her. Fantasy sequences are incorporated to show the ideal mother figure bringing in a melancholy tone when the reality of the situation hits. The dynamic at play is depressing and a picture of frustration is built up well leading to an understanding of why these young girls felt compelled to commit such a callous crime.
The Andersen sisters also involved two friends in their plot. What started as a playful, hypothetical situation of ‘How to kill Mom’ transforms into something much darker as their peers get far more than they bargained for. Its very twisted as we see the development from the grim situation that the girls live in, the plot and murder and the aftermath and trial. The rise of the internet plays a heavy part especially depicting the days before the social media explosion but still reminds us that you can find out how to do anything online and how scary that has rapidly developed in the years since. As a youth drama film its mostly reminiscent of Catherine Hardwicke’s Thirteen (2003) with the out of control teenagers aspect and general feel.
Perfect Sisters is one of this years most disturbing thrillers. Its tastefully shot however incorporates a grotty look and tone. Layered, utterly heartbreaking and chilling, Perfect Sisters is a truly engaging crime drama and coming-of-age film.
Hayley Alice Roberts.