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Sunday, April 10, 2016

AFF Review: Sisters of the Plague

Sisters of the Plague, directed by Jorge Torres-Torres, tells the story of Jo (Josephine Decker), a ghost tour guide in New Orleans who's life and relationships are being haunted by an unknown force. Her girlfriend Kate (Isolde Chae-Lawrence) struggles to keep up with Jo's gradually degrading grip on reality, which is agitated further by Jo's father (Thomas Francis Murphy), whose health is on a steep decline. At the center of the characters is the absence of Jo's mother, who drowned under mysterious circumstances when Jo was young.

The film is very rooted in southern culture, and does a great job of capturing the feel of the American South. There's a tone of wicked attitude boiling just beneath the surface of geniality, and the occult history of New Orleans plays a huge role as Jo uncovers more about her mother's past. This is woven into an intense sexuality that uses the body as a magical object, but at the same time doesn't eroticize the lesbian relationships for the male gaze.

The performances in the film are pretty impressive; there's a sense of realism that is created by the amount of improvisation and control that the actors were clearly given. Luckily, the central three characters are talented and able to pull this off well. The arguments that crop up between Jo and Kate are painfully real and really sell the heartbreak that can happen when outside forces drive two people apart.

In the last act of the film, it gets much more experimental. As Jo is possessed–or is losing her mind, or taking control through supernatural means, depending on your interpretation–the film uses abstract editing, dialogue-less scenes of occult activity, and a throbbing hypnotic score to portray the climax. While this is effective in some ways, and in fact is quite scary in the very end, it is a bit jarring when the audience has become quite close to and invested in these characters. The final scene is extremely intense, but when the credits suddenly roll there's a bit of a letdown because it's hard to understand what kind of resolution we just saw. I'm all for an ambiguous ending, but the ending here is hard to digest.

Overall, Sisters of the Plague is an interesting and passionate film that builds to a fiercely dark climax with a quiet buildup that gradually raises the stakes and creates emotionally resonant conflicts for its realistic characters.

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