Perfect Sisters: Film Review

Gravitas Ventures
Fine performances by the young leads don't fully compensate for the tonal wobbliness on display.

Two teenage sisters conspire to murder their alcoholic mother in this true-crime thriller.

Abigail Breslin and Georgie Henley play not so heavenly creatures in Perfect Sisters, a true-crime drama that shares themes, if not quality, with that 1994 Peter Jackson film. Based on the notorious “Bathtub Girls” case that rocked Toronto in 2004, Stan Brooks’ debut feature about teenage sisters who conspire to murder their alcoholic mother doesn’t manage to overcome the familiarity of its subject matter.

Sandra (Breslin) and her slightly younger goth-styled sibling, Beth (Henley), are extremely close, so much so that they even share a secret language (subtitles are thoughtfully provided for the audience’s understanding). Their bond is strengthened by the fact that their mother, Linda (Mira Sorvino), is a hopeless addict and alcoholic whose irresponsible ways have already driven away their father, who’s essentially washed his hands of them.

Things go from bad to worse with the arrival of their mother’s new boyfriend (James Russo), whose gruff manner soon turns physically abusive and, in Beth’s case, sexually threatening as well. With the help of their friends Justin (Jeffrey Ballard) and Ashley (Zoe Belkin), the sisters devise a plan to murder their mother by dosing her with pills and drowning her. They manage to pull off the killing, and despite the suspicions of a one-eyed detective, it seems like they’ll get off scot-free. That is until Beth, who’s showing signs of following in her mother’s addiction footsteps, begins blabbing about the crime to their high-school classmates.

The sort of true-crime melodrama that has fueled countless Lifetime television movies -- director Brooks is a veteran producer of such fare -- Perfect Sisters attempts to rise above its sordid material with a stylistic ambitiousness that includes fantasy sequences in which the girls imagine their mother as they’d like her to be and, later, depictions of imaginative methods for dispatching her. Screenwriters Fabrizio Filippo and Adam Till infuse the first part of the film with a deceptively lighthearted, whimsical tone, including voiceover narration, before the narrative lurches into darker territory. But director Brooks is unable to handle the tonal shift with sufficient finesse.

The film is elevated by the quality of the performances, with Breslin and Henley movingly affecting as the closely bound sisters and Sorvino convincingly conveying her character’s inability to function. Equally strong work is delivered by Russo (in a part he can by now play in his sleep) and Rusty Schwimmer as the girls’ concerned aunt, who turns against them once she realizes their complicity in the crime.

Opens April 11 (Gravitas Ventures)

Production: Julijette

Cast: Abigail Breslin, Georgie Henley, Mira Sorvino, James Russo, Rusty Schwimmer, Zoe Belkin, Jeffrey Ballard

Director: Stan Brooks

Screenwriters: Fabrizio Filippo, Adam Till

Producers: Juliette Hagopian, Damian Ganczewski

Executive producers: Michael Rotenberg, Cathy Rollo, Tony Rollo

Director of photography: Stephanie Anne Weber Biron

Editor: Robin Katz

Composer: Carmen Rizzo

Not rated, 98 minutes