Director: Joe Badon
Starring: Kali Russell, Holly Bonney, Linnea Gregg, Alex Stage
Run Time: 121 mins
The first thing you need to know about “Sister Tempest” is that it is a WHOLE lot of movie. The movie is a bonkers genre-blending mix of psychological thriller, sci-fi, musical, black comedy, art-house experimentation and exploitation horror. There is also a whole cavalcade of influences that you would not expect to sit side-by-side including The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Twin Peaks, Mork & Mindy, 50s & 60s low-budget sci-fi, 70s psychedelic Eurohorror, Godzilla films & John Waters. There is even a random scene that is seems like it could be out a Wes Anderson movie.
If all that seems on the overstuffed side then it is. Also, because of the relentless nature of the film, with its continual flow of different genres and mediums (there is a bunch of different animations styles utilised in the film) been throwing at you, the whole thing can become a bit exhausting. Thankfully overall the movie fascinates and exhilarates more than that it exhausts. Due the sheer amount of things coming at you it is hard not to get swept away with the film and while several people will be put off by the sheer craziness of the film, there will be many others intoxicated by its multiple charms.
It is also only fair to mention that while there is the odd time when the filmmaker appears to be being wacky for the sake of being wacky, there is an actual plot here. Not only that, while it may be an eccentric logic, there is a genuine internal logic to that plot. The plot under discussion concerns Anne Hutchinson (Kali Russell), an art teacher whose troubled relationship with her missing sister Karen (Holly Bonney) is put on trial by an alien tribunal. And that is not her only issue as her new roommate Ginger (Linnea Gregg) turns out to have some cannibalistic tendencies.
A lot of times in films as surreal as this, it’s the incidents and events you care about rather than the characters. However, here Badon does a good job of making you care about Anne and her struggles. She is clearly a psychologically tormented soul, and you are made to feel her anguish through both strong characterisation and a sensitive performance from Russell, who is the standout performer here. Not far behind her though is Gregg, who is equally adept at playing doe-eyed innocence as she is deliciously evil.
To give an exhaustive list of all the mad highlights in the movie would require a much longer review, but there are several real gems. Be it a giant spaceman stomping through a model city or a psychedelically animated karaoke number or Ann being accosted to paint a portrait by a bloody Ginger and a group of comedy Nazi’s. The list could go on and on.
At a certain stage you may begin to feel that the entire enterprise is getting overly self-indulgent, but just as you feel that it will take another captivating turn and (certainly for this reviewer) was never less than hypnotically watchable. Plus, given its budget-level it looks great. The production and set design are both excellent and faithfully recreate that highly stylised throwback sci-fi look.
In the end, the most surprising element here is not the giant spaceman, the vampires, the bizarre dream sequences, the comedy Nazis, the alien documentarians, the mailbox to God, etc. But just how emotional the ending is.
Overall: There is no doubt this will be a polarising film. And you will be able to gauge your tolerance levels for it within the first two minutes. For those willing to stick around though, they will find a beautifully bonkers homage to various eras of Sci-fi and horror exploitation cinema. But they also find a movie that is at its heart a moving tale of two sisters. Based on this evidence, we look forward to whatever Badon does next.