Attached at the Hip: Brian De Palma’s Twin Thriller


Sisters directed by Brian De Palma was an unexpectedly unnerving and inventive film. The director of Carrie proves with his 1973 film that he possesses an adept hand for the horror genre. This movie is deceptive in its placement within the horror genre, as it seems to be another take on the typical horror topic of the twin mystery. The film exists in the same vein of Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers or more recently the horror thriller Goodnight Mommy directed by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz. The film takes the twin trope by storm, however, with some truly beautiful and horrific scenes, and without spoiling anything, there is a birthday cake scene that is truly terrifying to witness. Above all else, the film is a testament to the fragility of a lie, the film hinges itself on the crumbling walls of a lie and refuses to let go, continuously highlighting the fragile line between the truth and the discovery of a lie.


The film employs an ingenious split-screen technique that makes the story that much more intriguing to watch unfold. Usually this would be frowned upon as it strips the viewer of a bunch of background information and thus, retracts information the viewer could be picking up. However, De Palma uses the split screen technique to give us multiple perspectives of the same room. Due to the split screen technique, the viewer is able to see more on one screen than they would be able to elsewhere. For example, in a critical scene that establishes whether or not the main character has a twin or not, one side of the screen depicts Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt) stumbling across a birthday cake with both twin’s names printed on it. While on the left side of the screen, Danielle is seen convincing the cops that she doesn’t possess a twin. As Grace approaches the cops the split screen comes together as Grace trips and drops the cake onto the ground. This short sequence literally breaks the divide between the lie being accepted or the truth being accepted. De Palma’s film utilizes the strange split screen technique to divide the viewers and keep them in suspense about this strange tale about honesty and lies.


The movie plays with who the viewer supports throughout most of the film. Does the viewer support the good citizen who is simply trying to achieve justice for a wrong she has witnessed? Or does the audience support the mystery enshrouded Danielle who is being preyed upon by her twin sister Dominque (both played by Margot Kidder)? Brian De Palma weaves a taught story about the delicate balance between the truth and a lie. He even has Danielle sit on her lie at one point, while a blood spot slowly grows on the back of the couch with a body inside. This all happens while she is talking with her neighbor Grace and the police in her apartment where a murder has just happened. The entirety of the lie again hinges on one crucial detail. Again, Sisters stresses this line between what the truth is and what a lie is built upon by literally having Danielle sit on her lie for the duration of a scene.

Sisters is a truly horrific film in how sparse it is, there is a limited amount of evidence for the crime and what does exist, if lost, will take the crime with it. De Palma creates a powerful parable on the nature of honesty and lies, he takes Grace and drags her down into the depths of what people will do to protect the fragility of a lie. It’s a meditation on how the biggest secrets can be hinged on the smallest of things.


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