Perfect Sisters (2014) TRUE CRIME MOVIE REVIEW – FREE ON NETFLIX AND HULU

 

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By Melissa Antoinette Garza

Is premeditated murder ever justified? Director Stan M Brooks and writer Fab Filippo pose that question in PERFECT SISTERS (2014).  The film tells the true story of two teens who committed matricide in Canada on January 18, 2003.  It’s an adaptation of Bob Mitchell’s book, THE CLASS PROJECT: HOW TO KILL A MOTHER: THE TRUE STORY OF CANADA’S INFAMOUS BATHTUB GIRLS.

Beth (Georgie Henley) and Sandra Anderson (Abigail Breslin) are two sisters who rely completely on one another, while trying to shield their little brother Bobby (Caleb/Braden Pederson) from the chaos around them.  The girls’ father Walter (Chris Sigurdson) is completely out of the picture, and their mother Linda (Mira Sorvino) is a basket-case.  Despite having three children, she spends her days as an unproductive alcoholic who constantly breaks promises and self-destructs.

As the movie opens, Linda is driving Beth, Sandra and Bobby to a new apartment.  They had just been evicted from their previous place, but Linda swears she’s on the right track.

She gets a job, and Sandra believing her mother to be at work goes to a Parent/Teacher conference for Bobby.  Later she finds out Linda was out partying.  As a result of missing shifts and not coming in, Linda loses her job.  She claims she was laid-off and asks her sister for cash, and grows angry when she refuses to give any more money.  The girls plan on getting evicted once again, but to their initial joy, they find out Linda met someone who is going to pay the rent.

Linda’s boyfriend, Steve Bowman (James Russo) is far from the prize they were hoping for.  He’s also an alcoholic.  He’s abusive and tries to force himself on Beth whenever they’re alone.

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Beth calls social services, where the agent says they can’t help, but to keep a journal of any abuse or neglect.  They reach out to their father Walter (Chris Sigurdson) who callously reminds them he has another family and brings up their attitude as youngsters.  The girls are stuck, but they still don’t want their mother dead.

In fact, when Linda cuts her wrists in effort to end it, Sandra runs to her aid and saves her life.  It isn’t until Steve lashes out and strikes Bobby with all his might, right in front of Linda, that the girls decide something must be done.

They begin plotting her murder and in the beginning, it’s more of a joke than anything else.  Beth’s boyfriend Justin (Jeffrey Ballard) and popular girl Ashley (Zoe Belkin) join the sisters in coming up with different suggestions.  It isn’t long before most of the school knows, but none of them say anything, and instead just offer words of encouragement.  Even when the girls make it known that they are serious, no one goes to the police.

After they go through with it, Beth does her best to keep Sandra from descending into a downward spiral.  Sandra, unable to deal with what happened, gets drunk, tells people at parties, and even attempts to take her own life.

One of the teens, Sandra blabs to goes to the cops and tells all.  It is then that the sisters are put at the mercy of the court.

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PERFECT SISTERS is an intense drama with excellent actors across the board.  It’s impossible not to sympathize with Sandra and Beth.  They tried to do everything right.  They asked for help from the adults in their lives.  They were straight A students.  They protected their younger brother from the hell that surrounded them.  There was just no way out.

Being young, they thought they’d get the insurance money and be set for life. When the severity and reality hit them, it impacted each one differently.

It’s a very sad film.  Sorvino portrays Linda as a pathetic, selfish and deadbeat mom.  I think everyone knows someone like Linda.  She’s the kind of woman who craves pity, feels entitled, always fails, but blames the world rather than herself.  She’s the kind of woman who drifts from one abusive relationship to another and drags her kids along for the collision course.  She’s the kind of woman you want to shake and say, “Smarten the fuck up and take care of your goddamn kids!”  She’s the kind of woman that makes you want to smack the sense into the friends and family who enabler her, look the other way while give her the pity and undeserved praise she demands.  Sorvino knocked it out of the park.  Typically, I love the characters she plays.   When I think of her, I think quirky and fun.  Here, I simply loathed her.

There were times throughout when Beth and Sandra would imagine a better version of their mother and even in those scenes Sorvino was great.  Having to convincingly portray the same essential characters in contrasting ways within the same film, is no easy feat, but Sorvino was exceptionally remarkable showcasing both the imaginary Linda with the real one.

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Both Georgie Henley and Abigail Breslin were sensational in their roles, as well.  Beth, being a goth kid and has an equally goth boyfriend could have fell into caricature mode, but instead Henley weaved a deeper story than the appearance let on.  It was Henley’s demeanor and mannerisms that revealed Beth’s fear, strength, sadness, and hopelessness.  She wasn’t just the run-of-the-mill Marilyn Manson fan who dyed her hair black and wrote poetry about loneliness in her basement (a.e. every goth character in every 90s-00s movie).  Instead, with Beth her appearance was organic and really spoke to her angst that went far beyond the normal teenage bullshit.

Breslin’s performance was equally sympathetic.  She revealed Sandra to be someone who desperately wanted an idyllic life, but didn’t think she deserved it.  She did her best to keep everything on track and really wanted to believe in Linda.  Though both girls lived in the imaginary world at times, Sandra was more attached to it.  Even after the murder, she tried to believe it was just make-believe and when she had to face reality, she couldn’t take it.  She delved into sex and drugs and a deep depression that she hid behind a fake smile as her eyes fought away tears of regret.

I’m not sure how close this film was to the actual case.  Canadian law will never release the real names of Beth and Sandra due to their age when the crime was committed.  There is a small update at the end providing information as to where the sisters are now, but little is revealed.  Through a quick perusal, I do know that the mother was an alcoholic and that the downfall of the girls was their big mouths.  If their home-life was as bad as portrayed, I don’t think they should’ve served time in anything other than a psychiatric facility.

Putting yourself in the shoes of either girl and remembering how it was to be a teenager, I wonder if I’m alone in this type of thinking.  I’m not saying what they did was right, but the girls were trapped, they wanted to protect their younger brother, and they tried to get out numerous times to no avail.

Had their father, child services, or their aunt stood up and said, “NO MORE” and offered shelter to these girls, Linda would still be drinking herself to death instead of being killed by two young teens who will live with the somewhat unwarranted guilt for the rest of their lives.

Whatever your opinion, this certainly is a film worth watching.  It’s free on NETFLIX and HULU.  If you have neither, rent it on Amazon.  I also suggest watching it with a friend as it can lead to a lot of interesting discussions and debates.

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Scared Stiff Rating:  8.5/10