Lucy Bonnard (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is in her bedroom one stormy night when a man approaches the bed and climbs in. Soon they are making love, but just as she is carried away by the ecstasy of the experience, she notices a drop of water hit her hand, then more, as above them is a crack in the ceiling through which water is beginning to leak. Soon that leak has become a torrent, and the water fills the room as Lucy's lover refuses to stop, pinning her beneath him as she goes under... But it's all a dream, and she awakens with a start.
Though that should give you some idea of the psychologically troubled Lucy and why her sister Charlotte (Judith Ivey), who she lives with in a huge mansion in the Louisiana bayou, insists she take her pills, stay away from men, and generally do as Charlotte tells her to lest her mind suffer further trauma. But why would she need to do so? That you don't discover till the final half hour of director Bill Condon's Southern Gothic, one of his last true horror movies until an upturn in his fortunes saw him direct guaranteed blockbusters in the Twilight franchise. Before that he had been noted by horror fans for his made-up Gods and Monsters biopic of James Whale's last days.
And before that for two writing assignments in the early eighties which went on to become cult favourites, Strange Behavior and Strange Invaders, though this effort, now all but forgotten, downplayed the humour and quirkiness of those to offer a more straight ahead mystery with supernatural and psychological chiller overtones. If you can be chilled in the Louisiana swamps in the summer months, though it is raining for much of the time the characters spend there, so maybe the weather wasn't quite as predictable as you might expect. Whatever, it provided a distinctive backdrop to what could have passed muster as something in this vein from the nineteen-sixties.
If Sister, Sister was at all recalled today, it would probably be because it featured a typically committed performance from Jennifer Jason Leigh, an actress who sought the difficult roles and was respected by her fans for that, although perhaps also because she was so willing to disrobe in the pursuit of her art: she's naked within the first few seconds of this, which could be a record for her. Here is the sort of suffering soul she could have played in her sleep, one of life's victims thanks to a childhood trauma which echoes into the present, who may find a way out thanks to the arrival of Matt Rutledge (Eric Stoltz, Leigh's boyfriend at the time) at the home-turned-hotel Charlotte has established.
Congressional aide on holiday Matt seems nice enough, which should have alarm bells ringing if you've ever seen anything like this before, but then again there were at least a couple of red herring characters within the tangled plot to negotiate. Where this was strongest was probably not that narrative, which may have been an homage to certain Gothics of two decades before but seemed rather pat once it summed itself up, yet in the atmosphere it had its strongest element, by turns steamy and suffocating, richly redolent of a community headng for decay and corruption thanks to secrets and behaviour not easily admitted to. So when it came to conjuring up the scares, it was a little flat, but when that ambience was contemplated we were on firmer ground (oddly, for a swamp) as events resolved themselves into a chase around that mansion where Lucy sees her sanity threatened once again. Not something to determinedly seek out, then, but not a waste of time either. Music by Richard Einhorn, no small contribution to that mood.