What almost ruins the experience of “A Sister’s Nightmare” is its pacing. The pacing and tension are glacial to the point where I wondered if writer Shelley Gillen had any idea where it was going. Thankfully sticking with it leads in to a very interesting pay off in the finale where events unfold in to a welcome twist climax. I pretty much anticipated what would occur, but in the end I appreciated that the writers opted for a twist rather than simply turning “A Sister’s Nightmare” in to a typical protective parent thriller we’ve seen a thousand times. I’m not saying “A Sister’s Nightmare” is top notch thrills and chills, but it definitely builds up to a neat bang that compensates for the general mediocrity of its storytelling.
Natasha Henstridge plays Cassidy, a bonafide mentally unbalanced woman who has spent sixteen years in a psychiatric hospital undergoing intensive therapy and shock treatments. In the next city, Cass’s sister Jane has spent most of her life trying to build a stable life in a small town. Now working her way toward a position as a sheriff, Jane spends her days as a loyal fiancé to her boyfriend and a dutiful mother to daughter Emily. Emily is unfortunately plagued with horrible nightmares about drowning and being submerged in water, prompting Jane to comfort her as much as she can while also trying to influence her to conquer her fear. When Cassidy is suddenly released from the hospital and given a recommendation to go back in to society, she visits her Jane and her niece Emily.
Soon enough Cassidy insinuates herself within Jane’s house, and Jane is inflicted with memories of their tortured childhood, as well as the inevitable tragic incident involving Cassidy and her husband who was brutally murdered one seemingly quiet night. Despite the lame faux wigs they stick them with in flashbacks, stars Kelly Rutherford and Natasha Henstridge give solid performances. Co-star Peyton List is also very good in her role as a young girl trying to tackle her own mental illness while dealing with this unusual scenario in her family. A lot of “A Sister’s Nightmare” is based around slowly unfolding events and flashbacks for the audience and supplying information that is scarce but definitely serves an importance to the overall arc of the film.
Emily is a young girl attached to mom Jane but finds an instant bond with Cassidy whose intentions seem pure and wholly well intentioned. Cassidy seems to almost have an insight in to what makes Emily tick, and begins injecting herself in to her life, prompting Jane to take safety precautions that become more and more over the top. As Jane gradually begins to unravel, she’s convinced Cassidy has something devious in store, and the game of wits begins, prompting Emily to face a challenge of loyalty between Jane and Cassidy. Is Cassidy literally trying to drive Jane in to her realm of insanity? Is Jane just imagining Cassidy is a snake in the grass? By now it becomes apparent what Emily’s entire purpose is, and the tensions arise when Cassidy begins to demand what is rightfully hers.
From there, writer Gillen has a hard time keeping the tension going, as Jane pretty much spends her time trying to find a way to bring Cassidy back in to the hospital, while Cassidy has vague conversations with Emily about suicide and her fear of water. Mid-way “A Sister’s Nightmare” loses its momentum and, as mentioned, slows to a crawl that tested my patience two fold. That said, it hints that it’s building up to an explosion and it’s a definitely neat little twist ending that I admired, if only for trying to think outside the box and poke at audiences expectations. You have to give to Lifetime entertainment; when they’re not exploiting scandals, and giving us biopics about musicians that no one wants, they can offer up some really above average thrillers.