FilmQuest 2021: SISTER TEMPEST Review – What The Hell Did I Just Watch?
Sister Tempest starring: Kali Russell, Holly Bonney, and Linnea Gregg
Written By: Joe Badon
Directed By: Joe Badon
Sister Tempest is a bit like a feature-length music video. It is imaginative, bizarre, frenetic, and completely bonkers. It’s Avant-garde, nonsensical, and hallucinatory; an assault on the senses. And just when you think it couldn’t possibly get any weirder, it does just that. The film has elements of horror, sci-fi, comedy, and many other genres melded together in one zany package.
Synopsis: Sister Tempest follows Anne as she grapples with the unexplained disappearance of her sister. While she struggles to keep balance in her life, Anne seeks solace in a newly-minted friendship with a troubled student at the art school where she is an instructor. As Anne works through her grief, she is asked to explain her actions to an authoritative counsel of alien beings, all while having her life documented by a film crew.
Every moment I was watching Sister Tempest, I found myself wondering what hell was unfolding in front of my eyes. But there was never a moment where the answer to that question became entirely clear. Writer/director Joe Badon seems to have little interest in explaining himself. Nor is he particularly concerned with providing context for some of the film’s stranger plot points. It doesn’t ever become abundantly clear why the council exists or what the purpose of documenting Anne’s plight is. But if a lack of answers doesn’t deter you, there is plenty to appreciate about Badon’s delightfully bizarre work of art.
One aspect that makes the film feel like a work of art is the brilliant set design. Badon was working with what I can only imagine were limited resources when he made Sister Tempest. But he makes the most of every dollar. The sets are impressive and help to sell the otherworldly aspects of the picture. They don’t always look expensive, or even realistic. But they are effective and brimming with boundless amounts of imagination.
In addition to great set decoration the film’s effects are also quite worthy of note. The practical FX work in Sister Tempest is goopy and visceral. Gore hounds will likely delight in the film’s nonstop display of carnage.
This genre-bending feature is definitely a case of style over substance. That’s not to say that Sister Tempest is entirely without substance. But the emphasis is clearly on the visual presentation, more so than telling a cohesive story. With that said, the visuals are stunning. And the editing (by Joseph Estrade) is nothing short of masterful. The character’s feelings and reactions are often emphasized by cutaways to classic cartoons. That seems like an odd choice but somehow it works. The excerpts serve to give the viewer a bit of insight to the characters’ thought processes and state of mind.
My chief criticism of Sister Tempest is that the film never quite congeals. It feels like pieces of art that have been cobbled together without ever managing to exist as a cohesive entity. Films like House (1977) have taken a similar approach and been successful. And I’m not saying that Sister Tempest is unsuccessful. It is visually stunning and one of the most innovative and imaginative indie features I’ve seen in some time. I just wish it had been less chaotic. There is so much going on that it can become difficult to keep up with the flick’s schizophrenic pace.
Moreover, if you require massive amounts of exposition or context, you may find yourself a bit disappointed by Sister Tempest. We never learn the reasons behind many of the more peculiar aspects of the storyline. And while it can be good to leave the viewer with questions, leaving them with nothing but questions is a risky move.
If you’re keen to check Sister Tempest, it is now screening as part of the FilmQuest Festival.
Sister Tempest is visually striking and beautiful to look at. But its schizophrenic narrative style left me with whiplash.