J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

NewFest ’15: Sisters of the Plague

There is no shortage of locations for Jo’s haunted French Quarter tours. Unfortunately, she can’t stop bringing her work home each night. Lately, she has been beset by weird visions and feelings of dread. She suspects it all has something to do with her mother’s premature death. The circumstances surrounding the incident remain murky, but that is true of much that you will find in Jorge Torres-Torres’s Sisters of the Plague (trailer here), which screens as part of the inaugural Queer Horror Night at this year’s NewFest.

In retrospect, Jo was probably asking for trouble when she participated in staged “witchcraft” shows for her tour patrons. Rather than cheesy shtick for the tourists, they look pretty real, but perhaps that is a bad thing. Although her mother has been dead for a while now, Jo still has unanswered questions. She was hoping her formerly-estranged drunkard father Bob would have some answers when she let him move in, but they are still rather standoffish around each other.

For obvious reasons, Jo’s girlfriend Kate is less than thrilled to have the constantly hacking, hard drinking Bob in such close proximity. Jo’s increasingly erratic behavior gives her further reason to conclude this family just isn’t cute anymore. Yet, Jo is sufficiently lucid to recognize she has a problem. Proactively, she seeks help from an old school psychic in some of the film’s best sequences.

In Plague, Josephine Decker and her Butter on the Latch co-star Isolde Chae-Lawrence reunite under the direction of Torres-Torres, the editor and associate producer of Toad Road, so it is hardly surprising this outing feels like an unholy marriage of those two hipster films. At least Plague is long on atmosphere, as you would jolly well hope from a movie set in New Orleans. There are a handful of eerily suggestive scenes, but Jo’s connective drama gets downright laborious.

Despite her bold extremes, there is something oddly distancing about Decker’s performance. Chae-Lawrence gives viewers somewhat more accessible energy and attitude to work with, but it is still hard to fathom why she sticks around as long as she does. However, Thomas Francis Murphy deserves all kinds of credit for his uncomfortably gross work as Bob.

Of course, it is hard to go too far wrong when using New Orleans as the backdrop for a ghost story involving long buried secrets. In fact, there is something impressive about its rigid aesthetic, not unlike Sarah Adina Smith’s The Midnight Swim, but it wouldn’t have killed anyone to embrace a few more genre indulgences. It is an intriguing film to parse and dissect, but most cult film fans will prefer something a little more fun. Recommended almost exclusively for fans of Decker and producer-co-writer Jason Banker, Sisters of the Plague screens this Sunday (10/25) at the Chelsea Bowtie, as part of NewFest 2015.

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