Review: Little Sister (Revelation Film Festival 2016)

Revelation Film Festival 2016 - Little Sister

Little Sister posterA nun going a little bit rogue could fit into almost any genre, but instead it’s a disarmingly political study of a dysfunctional family.

“Fail to see the tragic? Turn it into magic!” Taken from Marilyn Manson’s “Dope Hat,” a track largely musing on addiction’s control over the user, it’s an apt opening quote for a film where all the members of this family are addicted to something. Zach Clark, one of the most indie of filmmakers, follows up 2013’s White Reindeer with LITTLE SISTER, which is both infused with political commentary and a quirky collection of characters.

A period film of sorts, setting the film just prior to the 2008 election of US President Barack Obama, a brief period that mixes resignation with renewed hope. Young novice nun Colleen (Addison Timlin) is given the covent’s car for five days in order to reconnect with her family in North Carolina. Summoned by her troubled mother Joani (Ally Sheedy), she arrives to mark the return of her brother Jacob (Keith Poulson) from hospital, after being badly burned over his entire face and body during wartime. Her room is as she left it, covered in dark ephemera from the goth days she once shared with her brother. Her parents both addicted to marijuana and other recreational drugs, and Jacob a total recluse, she must deal with her own unresolved issues with her family and help them uncover their own.

Clark’s sense of irreverent humour comes across clearly in the title cards. After being told by Mother Superior that god created the world in seven days, so Colleen should be able to sort out her problems in five, each ‘chapter’ is punctuated by a title card that marks ‘The First Day’ and so on. Timlin’s Colleen is easy to connect to thanks to her deceptively mousey strain of weird, something that LITTLE SISTER celebrates at every turn. This does, after all, have a scene built around Colleen lip-syncing to Gwar’s “Have You Seen Me?” in a faux-blood covered nun’s habit – and it’s strangely adorable. Colleen’s ability to relate to the audience is essential as this focused family study refuses to shy away from their dysfunction.

Jacob’s drums, and the occasional bit of goth music, act as he staccato soundtrack for the film, breaking even the most quiet moments of reverie with pounding bass. Clark’s regular cinematographer Daryl Pittman shoots some lovely pieces that make full use of natural light, contrasted with the heightened colours of the interiors at times. Clark skirts along the edges of being saccharine, but widely avoids it, touching on animal liberation activists, the horrors of war and addiction, but never in an overt way. A film where strange is essential.

LITTLE SISTER is playing at the Revelation Perth International Film Festival, 7-19 July 2016.

2016 | US | DIR: Zach Clark | WRITERS: Zach Clark | CAST: Addison Timlin, Keith Poulson, Ally Sheedy | DISTRIBUTOR: Revelation Film Festival | RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes | RATING: ★★★★

In the absence of a trailer, here’s some Gwar.