Private school art teacher Anne Hutchinson faces an alien tribunal on the set of circumstances surrounding the sudden disappearance of her younger sister. Anecdotally going through the chapters of her life, beginning with her parents perishing when the sisters were young into growing up in a confrontation household between the sisters’ warring personalities to Anne’s desperate search for her younger sister after an ugly fight one night. Still reeling from the abrupt disappearance, a new student joins her class that ensues a sudden fascination from Anne. When the student shows up one night at Anne’s house, unloading woes of being kicked out of school due to lack of funds, Anne offers sympathy and suggests staying in her sister’s room that’s now been vacant for some time, but Anne’s new roommate hides a secret as she must feed on raw meat to combat of a body-covering boil sprouting illness. Little does the art teacher know that there’s a connection between her sister’s disappearance and her former blood-thirsty pupil that will shock her very core.
What happens when a promise to another person can’t be kept because that person’s will and commitment is so strong it’s becomes a severe fault? From an not from this world alien perspective, the contradictory and irrational nature of humankind has a profoundly illogical pattern to it that bears hardly any understanding to an unlike mind. There’s fragility to interpersonal relationships and to the people devoted to those relationships that force unforeseen, sometimes fatal, consequences when expected coherency and harmony turns into irrational chaos from seemingly arbitrary means. This is how Joe Badon’s genre-bending “Sister Tempest” expresses that conundrum of curious conscious with a surrealistic sci-fi-horror-drama that teeters on the edge of deadpan. The 2020 released “Sister Tempest” is the second written-and-directed feature film from Badon, following his 2017 experimental horror “The God Inside My Ear,” which falls upon similar “Sister Tempest” lines of emotionally distress-induced bale. Filmed in New Orleans, Louisiana, “Sister Tempest” is a produced by Badon, editor/sound designer Joseph Estrade, Dustin Rosemark (“Inferno”) and cinematographer Daniel Waghorne with visual effects artist Clint Carney (screener of “Dry Blood”) and Miles Hendler serving as executive producers.
After a series of prefacing introductory and non-linear story scenes, Anne Hutchinson, a debut feature role for New Orleans based actress Kali Russell, sits in negative space wearing an orange jumpsuit and being introduced to her alien tribunal council. Dazed and confused, but not totally in shock and frightened about being in the presence of otherworldly extraterrestrials, Anne recounts events surrounding the disappearance of her sister, played by Holly Bonney (“Bird’s Eye). As sisters, a defined line between the older responsible and the younger immature is contentiously formed between Anne and Karen as they deviate from earlier promises after their parents’ untimely death to take care of each other. Through Anne’s retelling of her life, her mother, though hard and disciplined, had a conditioning care that burdened the eldest child with a sense of duty and care at a young age and this really is no different from most firstborns who shoulders already a ton of responsibility regardless in taking on even more when the parents are no longer around. You love them to death is great idiom that rings true in Badon’s subversive-cinema standards tale when the sisters can’t see eye-to-eye on matters and there’s a loss of connection, accountability, and gratitude that the audience can relate to. For much of the picture, Holly Bonney takes a backseat to Kali Russell’s spiraling disconnect that affects her relationship with love interest Jeffrey the Janitor (Alex Stage, “Eat Brains Love”) and new life-entangling pupil Ginger (Linnea Gregg). The latter Greg played character has a little more layers to peel back that involves directly with Anne. Ginger’s is venom in disguise as vampire of sorts who requires raw meat and to keep her human appearance intact. There’s a representational duality in Ginger, reflecting both a monstrous quality and a sweet innocence that ties into Anne personally and into the search for the sister. “Sister Tempest” rounds out the cast with Clint Carney (“Dry Blood”), Lucas Boffin (“Return to Sender”), Andre LaSalle (“The God Inside My Ear”), Cami Roebuck (“Children of Sin”), and Sarah Rochis.
“Sister Tempest” has a foundational design we’ve all likely seen before with breaking points, dualities, and downhill-racing mystery unfathomable to the naked eye, but the Josh Badon story inexplicitly feels different from the others. Perhaps because of Badon’s unconventional storytelling style that throws the normal perceptions for a loop, literally and figuratively, with a 50’s-ish callback to science fiction films or its glamour of 70’s-ish British horror in color and macabre or an unsane mixture of both. I’m not going to sugar coat “Sister Tempest” as an easy to follow, low-hanging fruit film that simple, straight-forward, and is everybody’s cup of tea. That would be a waste of peddle spiel. There’s a zaniness quality that can’t be ignored that surrounds the principal Anne character as if she’s experiencing an ersatz world normally. Some would say that Anne’s caught in a maelstrom, or tempest, of unclear thought and her ordeal is catalytically charged by the work and the love that is poured into her sister’s wellbeing only to be thrown back into her face. Badon has a flair for the unusual, an eye for the odd, and can extravasate an uneasy air from a capsule of seemingly randomized happenstance and beyond the already preternatural events to aggregating the wayward tension.
“Sister Tempest” is the very definition of independent movies with a take it or leave it spellbinding archetype that’s unlike anything ever seen before. You can bear witness to Joe Badon’s mesmeric madness and melancholy with a brand-new Blu-ray from Darkside Releasing. Presented in two aspect ratio formats, a 2.39:1 and 1.33:1, the screen really runs the side-to-side gamut. Image quality shows zero sign of issues from the high-definition digital video, shot on a 4K black magic pocket cinema camera. The blacks are deep and rich as well as the coloring through Daniel Waghorne’s versatile cinematography involving gel lighting, color reduction, and spotlighting. The English language 5.1 surround sound shows no sign of slowing down this A/V wonder with clean and lively multi-audio tracks that come through every channel definitively. Bonus material includes an audio commentary with the director, produces, and actors, a blooper reel, a deleted scene, and trailers for Darkside releasing surreal and giallo films. “Sister Tempest” Lynchian style is not going to please the masses, but it’s certainly the wildest ride in the theme park of contemporary indie cinema.