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The Dark Sisters (2023) Review

The Dark Sisters, the latest film from writer/director Richard Bailey (King Judith, A Ship of Human Skin) begins with a woman (Kristin Colaneri, Portrait of an American Family, The Magic Sofa) wearing an animal skull mask tearing down crime scene tape in a forest. As she does, a voice-over compares the tape to a hawk preparing to kill a rabbit. And like a hawk the camera takes flight, a drone giving us an aerial view of the forest and swamp as the voice continues speaking.

Thus begins the story of sisters Jorie (Nicole Fancher, Shifter, The Sky Has Fallen) and Kaidon (Edna Gill, How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift?, A Certain Scientific Railgun). Once close, they’ve become estranged due to a dark event in their past, an event that threatens to derail their attempt at reconciliation.

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If you’ve seen any of Bailey’s previous films then you’ll have an idea of what to expect from The Dark Sisters. If not, you’ll probably already be lost among the monologues and animated inserts, and wondering just what you’ve walked into. I had the same reaction and, having seen King Judith, I had an idea of what to expect.

The Dark Sisters is art horror with a capital “A” filled with dialogue that sounds like it belongs on a stage interrupted by odd occurrences. The masked woman we saw tearing down the police tape reappears and tries to rob the sisters. When they report it they’re visited not by police or park rangers but by Jack (Michael Steven Daughtry, Telehealth, Cowboy and Lucky), a volunteer who’s also a pastor at a local church.

In some ways The Dark Sisters reminds me of films like Mickey Reece’s Climate of the Hunter. Things aren’t normal, but they’re not full-blown weird or bizarre either. It’s as though everything simply shifted a few degrees away from what we expect them to be, and we have to figure out why.

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In this case, why is linked to flashbacks of the sisters growing up in what they refer to as a “closed religious community”, or what we would call a cult. They have axes and talk about making it look like someone fell on it. The who and why is a mystery, but it seems to have been someone important. An invasive water plant, Giant Salvinia choking out a local body of water also figures into The Dark Sisters’ history as well, possibly as a punishment for their act.

I found it very hard to get a grip on just what the sister’s story was, especially as the film goes on and actual dialogue becomes more scarce. Instead we get more voiceovers, the speakers’ voice hypnotically flat and droning. This is matched with shots of the swamp, distorted images, and characters performing some kind of dance. As I said, this is art with a capital “A” and it was getting beyond my understanding.

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Cinematographer Jay Flowers (A Ship of Human Skin, King Judith) brings out the dark beauty of the film’s swampy backwoods location to considerable effect. Flowers also collaborated with Cory Perschbacher (Out of Exile, Bikini Vampire Babes) on the score which, when combined with the voiceovers, creates a weirdly compelling effect.

Most viewers will find The Dark Sisters too far off the beaten path for them, and I can completely understand that. I found it interesting and challenging, but it still left me somewhat frustrated and unsure of what I’d just watched. This is one for adventurous viewers and arthouse devotees, all others should approach with caution and a caffeinated, THC infused drink.

Bayview Entertainment has released The Dark Sisters on Blu-ray as well as to Digital Platforms. You can check the film’s Facebook page for more information.

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