Stone Bell Creations // 2008 // 104 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // February 4th, 2009
I mean...did you have to be so...intervention? I feel like a drug addict.
For all of the giant budget, star-studded films that come out every year, just as many tiny budget, homemade films are made that never see festival circuits, let alone major theater chains. Sometimes, it is difficult to accept the aspects of these amateur productions that throw the lack of budget in the viewer's face. The acting isn't great; the shots aren't slick; the special effects look fake. These things can make the viewers believe that they can do it themselves, undermining all that movie magic. Whether they actually can or not depends on the individual, but there are different ways to look at this. It's easy to condemn this level of filmmaker as an amateur who shouldn't even try; there are so many cleaner productions to watch. In the case of The Sisters Four and many other obscure, low budget films out there, however, this is inspiring. With an idea, a decent script, a little money, and most important, a ton of gumption to actually get up and do it, you and I can make a movie that is not only coherent, but honestly enjoyable, as well.
Traci Holmes (Rosa Nichols) is a successful businesswoman with a beautiful house and a loving professor boyfriend, Richard (Korey Duke). While she seems to have it all, she can't sleep and it's driving her crazy. Traci has a secret, one she keeps from herself as well as everyone else, that manifests itself in her dreams. These violent, disturbing images, horrific as they are to her, may hold the answer to a rash of serial killings that have plagued the town for weeks.
In those deep recesses of the mind, there are thoughts and experiences that we have all forgotten lie in wait for the time which we need to remember them. Sometimes, though, our mind actively blocks certain memories to allow us to live our lives without constantly reliving whatever trauma has caused the block. Traci can't remember anything before she went into an orphanage and very little during her time there. It depresses her that she cannot remember a childhood; she feels like a freak who can't relate to anyone around. Richard, patient and loving, copes as best he can but he's worried and at the end of his rope. He needs to help her where she doesn't want to be helped. She claims that, if she remembers what caused the blockage, the reality will be far more traumatic than her lack of memory. While this is logical, it is unacceptable to those around her, so Richard gets all of his and her friends together for a party. Unfortunately, as she will quickly discover, this is less a shindig and more a psychiatric intervention where they're going to force her to undergo hypnosis. Traci begrudgingly agrees for the sake of her sanity, and lies down on the couch.
What we find is a story of abduction, child slavery, and vengeful murder. It makes a whole lot of sense that Traci would block this stuff out and is amazing that she's able to function on any level with such experiences under her belt. Her young mind did cope, though, but now Richard's mind can't. What Traci sees is obscure images that frighten her but don't connect. Richard is compelled to connect those dots and find out exactly what happened. As he finds out the names of the children from the orphanage when Traci was there, he starts to recognize some names. Some of these people, and only these people, have turned up murdered in recent weeks. Somebody is systematically killing these women and Richard is convinced that Traci may be next, so tries to convince the police, who have been baffled by the killer. These are some pretty dim investigators, though. Richard must continue, with a little help from his friends, to protect his girlfriend's safety and sanity.
Little is new or special about the storyline of The Sisters Four, but writer and director Jim DeVault uses the somewhat meager tools at his disposal to construct a generally coherent and, most important, enjoyable thriller. While the identity of the killer is far from a revelation, the story builds nicely to the reveal as the first killings are kept completely ambiguous, while later attacks give increasingly less subtle hints to the killer's identity. With virtually no red herrings, the film moves in a linear fashion, never taking time out to establish much about the characters outside of this situation. Sometimes to the film's benefit, sometimes not; it is hard to care about the deaths of characters that we've barely met and who are dead before Traci's introduction. Though their association to the main character is discussed by the end, they don't have a lot of relevance to the finale, so it's as though they were never there.
In no way are the technical aspects of the film very good, but they are mostly serviceable. The film is shot in a very standard way; it is good that DeVault did not feel he could reinvent the wheel with The Sisters Four, instead staying practical and realistic. The screenplay, penned from an old story by DeVault's wife, hits its marks well and, though there is little in the way of substantial character development, it gives enough that at least the principle characters don't seem like complete shells. The acting is sometimes abysmal, mostly little more than serviceable, but for a film of this level, it is certainly not as bad as I've seen. The best part of the film is in the special effects. They are confined to the killing scenes, which are generally the most effective scenes in the film, and are fairly gross and pretty realistic, impressive work under the budgetary restraints.
The screener DVD from Stone Bell Creations that I received is similar in level to the film itself: bare bones. The image is generally substandard with plenty of digital artifacts and uneven coloring, though it is presented in an anamorphic widescreen format. The sound is similar; while inconsistencies abound, the dialogue is generally clear and there is noticeable separation in the stereo sound. The actual DVD release contains a commentary, which I hope discusses the myriad problems associated with making a film on this budget level, but little in the way of additonal extra features.
The Sisters Four has plenty of problems that come from both a lack of money and a lack of experience. Still, Jim DeVault was forced to work with the tools he was given and performs admirably. With a stronger cast and better equipment, there's no telling the quality of feature he could make. Ultra-low budget films like this deserve some concessions, and The Sisters Four makes these much easier than other films at its level.
DeVault, his cast, and crew have all done fine work given their budget for The Sisters Four.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Stone Bell Creations
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site