little_sister_3Year: 2016
Director(s): Zach Clark
Writer(s): Zach Clark, Melodie Sisk
Region of Origin: US

Rating: Unrated
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Digital, Color, 91 mins

Synopsis: Young nun Colleen returns to her childhood home, hoping to reconnect with the family she left behind. (Source)

We’re all just trying to do the best with what we’ve been given – that’s the gist of Zach Clark’s Little Sister, a film that manages to mix black lipstick, horror movies, pot brownies and Marilyn Manson into a totally, sincere, bizarre family drama. Clark’s film is totally touching, but never succumbs to fake sentimentality, instead digging deep into its goth roots to explore the human imperfections that bind us together. This film is pure magic, tailor made for the goth girl hiding in each one of us, but accessible enough for anyone who’s ever had a hard time getting along with a loved one. From Addison Timlin’s piercing performance, to the catchy dialogue and eclectic soundtrack, Clark’s latest is bursting with charm and eccentricity, no doubt destined for cult status and bound to get better with each viewing.

In NYC, Colleen (Addison Timlin) is a sister-in-training, close to her first vows, and eager to commit to a lifetime of faith. She’s thrown a curveball when an email from her estranged mother, Joani (Ally Sheedy), begs for her to visit, mentioning that her brother, Jacob (Keith Poulson), has returned from a tour in Iraq. Initially hesitant to revisit the tumultuous relationships she ran away from, Colleen borrows the Reverend Mother’s car and makes her way back home for a few days. When she arrives, she finds her room exactly as she left it – black walls, upside down cross and Christian Death CD waiting in the stereo. Though some things haven’t changed, time and distance may be an asset to healing and understanding. As Colleen navigates a mother who’s been broken by circumstance and an introverted brother disfigured from the war, she searches for ways to reconnect with her drifting family, along the way learning that love thrives through imperfection.

The best thing that Clark accomplishes throughout, is that he never forces his disparate characters to conform or compromise their beliefs, instead allowing each person to learn from each other. These are very broken people, both psychologically and physically, and Clark appreciates and celebrates what makes them all so different. Clark’s refusal to judge his characters makes for a refreshing kind of honesty, one that pays off as we get to learn about their scarred psyches and physical wounds. Without downplaying the tragedies that sit below the surface of each scene, the film is bursting with an understated sense of hope and sympathy, illustrating how perfection doesn’t exist, but that compromise and understanding go a long way in terms of easing dysfunction and torment. In the best way, this is a story about meeting in the middle and accepting one other for who we really are. On top of it all, Clark still manages to throw in a gleefully grotesque Gwar musical number, scores portions of the film with thundering blast beats and sends everything off with a wicked Halloween party, replete with sketchy treats and liberal does of raw catharsis.

little_sister_2Filling out the film’s heart, is an ensemble that brings their all to the emotional material. Addison Timlin’s Colleen is the perfect centerpiece, embodying the story’s ideas of compassion in a way that adds to the film’s authenticity. She says a lot without having to say it, making her character’s portrait of faith and patience one that we can easily invest in. As her brother, Jacob, Keith Poulson is hidden behind a full face prosthetic, but still conveys a restrained melancholy. We can feel the pain behind his every action, but also the person reaching out and at peace. As the family’s matriarch, Joani, Ally Sheedy turns in a devastating performance. Sheedy plays the role with a nuanced maturity, never devolving into a stereotype, but truly feeling like a mother who has numbed her feelings for too long. Peter Hedges, Kristin Slaysman and even Barbara Crampton, as the Reverend Mother, round things out in a great way.

Little Sister finds grace in the unexpected, exploring the familial bonds that remain no matter how messed up things can get. Clark’s smart script never falls prey to unnecessary drama, allowing things to unfold naturally as each character finds a way to cope with each other and themselves. Most importantly though, the film never panders. This one stays true to its strangeness and fierce belief in the good hidden within us – it’s a total knockout that blends natural absurdity with a healthy respect for morbidity, all while embracing the frailties that make us who we are.