It has been over a month since Jorge Torres-Torres's film Sisters of the Plague made its digital debut, and the ratings online are remarkably low. You can infer that my expectations could be described as such. But with such marks burying a film to some forgetful nadir, Sisters should be exhumed and celebrated for its simplicity, a quality that online commentators saw as its flaw. This slow-paced, sparse movie is meant to be a methodical study of a young woman's descent into madness, carried less by the story's plot and more by its serene imagery.
There is a driving force here, a leaden drive with a young couple named Jo and Kate at the wheel (Josephine Decker and Isolde Chae-Lawrence, respectively). Set somewhere in the suburbs of New Orleans, we see the two hopelessly in love as a beautiful yet ominous camera gazes on them kissing and embracing for what will be their last halcyon moment. Shortly after, we see Jo guiding tourists for a "walking ghost tour," a rather innocuous profession. But it is at this moment when Jo's strange visions occur which later become afflictions; a foreshadowing that is rooted in Jo's history, as rich and as violent as the city she occupies.
The true threat (and horror) to our lovers is Jo's dependent and drunken father, Bob (Thomas Francis Murphy), who sleeps on an air mattress in a room next to the kitchen (presumably to be closer to the beers in the fridge). Jo doesn't call her dad dad, but simply Bob, and not for some nostalgic Atticus Finch/Scout symbolism. It's a consequence of an absent father who finds himself back with his estranged daughter after the mysterious death of Jo's mother. Kate is less than enthusiastic about this dysfunctional, unfunny three's company arrangement, but love is love. She deals with it for the sake of Jo.
But as horror goes, Jo's visions get worse. Her display and descent into madness is clearly the filmmakers playing with other genres tied to themes of shamanism, witchcraft, mediums, and possession. Jo sees a psychic; she participates in seances; she is likely being haunted by her dead mother or some other apparition with unclear intentions. This blending could be derided as student-film experimentation, but vivid shots of landscapes and dusk horizons, often with Jo's naked body (stripped by her loss of self) at its center, create an art I can only characterize as erotic chaos.
There are flaws. For one, the title is a misnomer or a badly placed metaphor. Any feminist connection to the idea of lesbianism as a sisterhood never amounts to anything meaningful. I also have no idea what "plague" means in the story's framework.The ending is also convoluted and echoing the strange yet beautiful Under the Skin, but without the dramatic climax and eerie soundtrack. Still, Sisters of the Plague, with its short 72-minute run time, is an artistic expression that may not have a center, but is held together, ironically, with chaos.
Eric Dinsmore | Twitter: @dinsmorality