‘Sisters of the Plague’: Outfest Review
A young woman becomes immersed in occult practices in an effort to understand the untimely death of her mother
Vaguely articulated notions of demonic possession motivate Jorge Torres-Torres’ ultra-low budget horror feature, which relies more on misguided attempts to create atmosphere than on persuasively building suspense. Given its nominal genre trappings, Sisters of the Plague may continue to attract scattered festival bookings before inevitably transitioning to digital formats.
Somewhere on the fringes of contemporary New Orleans, Jo (Josephine Decker) provides customized tours of “haunted” locations for groups of curious tourists and locals, a pastime that continues to contribute to her confusion over the mysterious death of her mother several years previous. Now that her infirm, alcoholic father Bob (Thomas Francis Murphy) is staying with her and girlfriend Kate (Isolde Chae-Lawrence), Jo is hoping to coax some more definitive information from him about her mom. At the same time, she’s beginning to experience strange visions and waking nightmares, which Jo finds more intriguing than frightening, although her late-night freak-outs are deeply distrubing for Kate.
A friend refers her to a psychic, who indicates that Jo is in far more danger than she suspects from emerging malevolent forces. Although the medium warns her not to continue trying to access the spiritual realm, Jo insists on pursuing her makeshift occult activities. After a barely coherent performance piece with two self-described “witches” leads to terrifying consequences, Jo again seeks out the psychic, but a cleansing ritual only seems to intensify her disconnection from reality, as she withdraws from Kate in a frantic attempt to protect herself.
Torres-Torres and co-writer Jason Banker share credits on several past films, but their ongoing collaboration doesn’t appear to have improved their output. Their underwritten script is vague on details concerning the threats facing Jo, shunning most conventional associations with occultism and demonic possession in favor of overwrought familial and relationship drama. The climactic scenes depicting Jo’s ultimate fate have an unnerving quality primarily due to a profound lack of narrative cohesion.
Decker, fully subscribing to the filmmakers’ unfocused vision, exacerbates the script’s numerous pitfalls by playing Jo with an almost unmitigated indulgence (but not a trace of a Southern accent) that deprives the character of critical complexity. Murphy off-puttingly coughs and mumbles his way through most of the film as Jo’s irrevocably damaged dad who’s concealing a dreadful secret. Chae-Lawrence has even less to offer as the mistreated girlfriend, until Kate’s true purpose is revealed in the film’s final scenes.
Production quality is fairly basic, relying on variably passable cinematography that’s somewhat improved by comparison with the film’s dauntingly DIY visual effects.
Production companies: Blackout Films, Cantina Filmworks
Cast: Josephine Decker, Thomas Francis Murphy, Isolde Chae-Lawrence
Director: Jorge Torres-Torres
Screenwriters: Jorge Torres-Torres, Jason Banker
Producers: Jorge Torres-Torres, Jason Banker, Derrick Hamm, Jesse McGowan
Executive producer: Adrian Salpeter
Director of photography: Ashley Connor
Editor: Jorge Torres-Torres
Music: Jorge Torres-Torres
No rating, 74 minutes