The first female Lao filmmaker, Mattie Do (Chanthaly), delivers a compellingly weird effort with this horror drama that lifts liberally from both The Eye and Final Destination while elbowing plenty of its own personality into the fray.
A young village girl moves to the city to live with her well-off cousin and make money to send back to her family, but it soon enough transpires that her cousin’s worsening blindness has some peculiar side-effects, namely allowing her to see those about to die, and oddly enough, giving her visiting cousin the means to accrue great wealth.
It’s an extremely bizarre set-up when you consider the entirety of the plot in retrospect, albeit much more easily digestible while you’re watching it. Do sustains a calmly sinister atmosphere from practically the very first scene, as unsavory power dynamics throw up numerous questions – some red herrings, some not – and the notion of class mobility is confronted head-on.
That plot description may ultimately end up coming off as rather misleading considering that the supernatural fare doesn’t truly creep into the family narrative until around the third act, leaving audiences waiting with baited breath for the incorporeal elements to explode.
There’s also no getting around the fact that this is a terribly unfocused film; it fleets from being a pared-down, realistic drama to a gonzo supernatural thriller without much warning and the lottery number aspect is undeniably goofy, clashing with the gorier elements in particular. That said, there’s a potent, aching undercurrent of sadness to the core character dynamic – aided by two rock solid central performances – and it just about comes together in the final stretch for a clever, grim payoff.
Though at times slight to a fault and at others liable to tonal whiplash, Dearest Sister nevertheless does enough to revel in its unmistakable weirdness and deliver a truly bizarre genre-bender quite unlike anything else in recent memory.
Dearest Sister premieres at the London Film Festival on October 10th