Two Sisters

Film review by Thomas M. Sipos




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Two Sisters (2019, director: James Lee; cast: Emily Lim, Mei Fen Lim)





I've seen horror films from Japan, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and even Singapore. But never from Malaysia. So when I learned that Two Sisters was from Malaysia, I did some research.

Malaysia turns out to be a fairly interesting place, beginning with its curious geography -- check it out on a map. According to Wikipedia, Malaysia is multiracial, multi-ethnic, majority Muslim, and their dominant language is Malay. English is a recognized second language.

Yet the dialog in Two Sisters is Mandarin. Why so? It seems that 22.9% of Malaysia is ethnic Chinese, most of whom speak dialects from southern China, such as Mandarin, Cantonese, and Hokkien. So Two Sisters is a tale set within Malaysia's Chinese community.

(Okay, that doesn't have anything to do with horror, but I found the film's cultural background interesting.)

As the title implies, Two Sisters is about two sisters: Mei Xi (Emily Lim) and Mei Yue (Mei Fen Lim). In Chinese, family surnames come first, so this is a story about the Mei sisters. (But I think Emily is the actress's first name; sometimes they Anglify the order.)

Xi is a successful author. Yue is a bit mad, having spent the past years in an asylum. But now the time has come for Yue to be released. Xi dutifully picks up Yue and brings her to the family mansion, which they co-own. Xi wants to sell it, but needs Yue's permission.

Some dark, tragic event (possibly supernatural) occurred to Yue when she was a child, in a room that's still locked. Or did it? Only Yue knows for sure, and Xi doesn't want to press the matter. Yue's mind is still fragile, her memories scrambled. Xi just wants Yue to get better and approve the sale of the house.

Two Sisters is a "slow burn," with long periods between scares. Only a few of those, mostly of the "jump scare" variety (e.g., the sudden manifestation and disappearance of ghosts). Fewer still are the quiet manifestations, such as a sheet slipping off a couch in the background. Many furniture pieces are covered with sheets, allowing for some creepy moments.

What's that lump under the sheet? A lamp or ... a human head?

Neither sister has lived here for years, hence the sheets. Their parents died long ago. I guess they're wealthy enough not to have to rent out the house.



Most of the film is the two sisters wandering about their mansion, discussing their childhoods and their lives. What I call "domestic horror." Eventually, things get very strange for Xi. She uncovers shocking secrets and confronts painful truths. The twist ending is well handled, but it's a twist that horror fans have seen many times before.

Two Sisters is written and directed by James Lee, who does a fine job handling the interplay between his actresses. I also admired the use of color. Much of the film is in gauzy soft focus, the set full of whites and soft pastels, with occasional intrusions of bright red. This lends an ethereal "ghostly" feel to the film, while also creating the sense of a person not firmly in touch with reality. Kudos to cinematographer Teck Zee Tan, and art directors Fish Lim and Brandden Low.

Two Sisters is intelligently written, well acted, and slickly produced. Although it's from Malaysia, its style is similar to J-horror, albeit less gory. But it's low on originality. Fans of slow burn, talky, supernatural Asian horror will like it. Those looking for stronger stuff and a faster pace might look elsewhere.



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