Right from the very beginning of Sisters you know you’re in for something especially creepy. The great composer Bernard Herrmann, responsible for the likes of North By Northwest, Cape Fear, Vertigo and of course Psycho drapes the opening credits – slow closeups of a human embryo – with quite the most unsettling, martial and brassy score. This films has rightly been identified as director De Palma’s most open tribute to Hitchcock and the choice of composer backs this up but the story line is as much an homage to the contemporary Gialli of the early 70s.
A young New York couple, Danielle and Phillip, meet on the set of a TV show (under the very Hitchcockesque title Peeping Toms) and go on a date together. Despite a brief appearance of her ex-husband the date goes so well they both end up in her apartment and spend the night together. It continues going swimmingly and he proves to be such a stand up guy that when he discovers it’s her birthday – shared with her twin who he’s heard in the next room – he goes out and has a big birthday cake made. It’s only when he returns and tries to present it to her (foolishly accompanied by a large kitchen knife) that he realises it’s the worst, last mistake he will ever make.
From this point on the film moves in two directions. We delve deeper and deeper into Danielle’s psyche and at the same time follow another character, Grace Collier, a reporter of some repute who lives in the apartment opposte Danielle and saw the murder of Phillip taking place. The sequence is a tantalising one, shot in immaculate split screen that posits a dying Phillip attempting to alert the Grace through the window as she looks on in horror. A nice hat tip to Rear Window that very nearly bests its progenitor.
The split screen of course is not just there for De Palma to show off with of course. It mirrors the tragic life of Danielle and he twin sister. Not just any twin either. It turns out they are a pair of conjoined twins from Quebec, separated some years before and now attempting an unassuming life in the United States. This obviously begs Grace to follow the story up, which she does with gusto not realising how unsettling the story she uncovers might be.
It’s difficult to say more without spoiling certain surprises but it’s a great ride. As you might expect from the man responsible for Dressed to Kill and Carrie De Palma delivers goes in some interesting directions with both of his female leads, not least with a deranged dream sequence that welds the two of them together.
Overall a beautifully put together film helped by convincing central performances and exceptional split screen that amps up the tension. De Palma’s breakout picture with an ending that is both unresolved yet very satisfactory; highly recommended.
Sisters – directed by Brian De Palma (1973)
A journalist spies a murder in an apartment opposite her own. The police don’t believe her so she decides to investigate on her own.