Dearest Sister (2016) [Stranger With My Face International Film Festival 2017]

A young woman leaves home to go work for her cousin the city as this one is gradually going blind.  As the cousin’s sight leaves her, she get a gift of being able to see and communicate with the dead.  Her newly arrived cousin has difficulty adapting and may not be going about things the best way.

Directed by Mattie Do and written by Christopher Larsen, Dearest Sister feels more like a drama than a horror movie, but it definitely has a lot of horror elements to it.  It’s a story that develops slowly and is not fully clear as to what is going for a while, which works to its advantage, creating characters that the audience gets to know first and then situations that make them feel like real human before truly exploring the supernatural aspect of the story.  The lead characters of Nok and Ana are the ones seen the most and around whom it all revolves.  Of course the supporting characters of Jakob, the maid, and the gardener are also important to what happens and how it evolves.  They are intrinsic to how the story develops.  Some of them are made to be likable, some unlikable, and some switch back and forth between the two which adds to the characters and how they interact with each other.  The film is built in a way that the visions and communications from the dead seem almost natural and organic to the situation.  The characters react in a way that feels logical and keeps the attention on them more than on the visions.  This leads to the aforementioned feeling that it’s more of a drama than a horror film, proving that it’s a layered story that works on multiple levels.

The cast here is minimal with most of the film revolving around the characters of Nok and Ana, with Jakob, the maid, and the gardener in order of screen time.  This means that most of the film rests on the shoulders of Amphaiphun Phommapunya as Nok and Vilouna Phetmany as Ana.  The two of them do wonderful work and show a good range of emotions, each in their own way as Amphaiphun Phommapunya is the definite lead and Vilouna Phetmany has to work with her character’s blindness.  The two of them shine in tough parts and work through their characters’ struggles to show emotions, evolution, and that they are quite talented.  Tambet Tuisk as Jakob does icky (for lack of a better term) very well, his character is shady yet caring, which makes him a complex man and how Tuisk plays him shows that he got it and shows these characteristic to a point where is character becomes completely unlikable.  All three of them as well as Manivanh Boulom as the maid and Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy as her gardener husband all show people with different levels of desperation trying to make it and get a better life for themselves.  They show this without exaggerating or over doing things, which creates characters that feel real even if at times they are despicable.

The film not only boasts good performances, it looks great.  The cinematography by Mart Ratassepp creates images that show the settings beautifully while also creating a separate feel for the scenes wherein the visions happen.  This creates a way for the scenes to be easily separated but yet stay cohesive.  Mart Ratassepp’s work shows the story in an interesting way, which adds to the film’s overall appeal.  The film’s editing by Zohar Michel also works with this, mixing the two worlds, living and dead, together in a way that it’s not always clear which is which right away, adding to the mystery.

Dearest Sister is a film filled with good performances and interesting visuals.  It’s a slow burn that takes it time and feels more like a drama then horror.  It also is one of those films that feel like it’s just small slice of life for its characters.  It not fully explained or fully rendered in terms of the supernatural, but that works for it in the end.