The Movie Waffler New to Prime Video - SUPERIOR | The Movie Waffler

New to Prime Video - SUPERIOR

New to Prime Video - SUPERIOR
Fleeing her abusive husband, a young woman trades identities with her twin sister.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Erin Vassilopoulos

Starring: Alessandra Mesa, Ani Mesa, Pico Alexander, Jake Hoffman, Stanley Simons

superior poster

A favourite premise of the made-for-TV movies that prop up the Christmas Channel every year is that of a messy woman returning to her snowbound hometown to reconnect with family and usually fall for an old platonic friend who is now a hunky small business owner. Much of Erin Vassilopoulos's directorial debut Superior, which she expanded from an earlier short, plays into those sort of tropes, sans the hunky small business owner. But there's an element of darkness that gives it the quality of a Hallmark Christmas movie directed by Donald Cammell.

superior review

The messy woman in question here is Marian (Vassilopoulos's co-writer Alessandra Mesa), a rock musician whom we witness run over her abusive husband, Robert (Pico Alexander), as blood drips from a wound in her head. Marian subsequently makes her way to the snow-blanketed small town in upstate New York where her estranged twin sister Vivian (Mesa's real life sister Ani Mesa) lives with her uptight husband Michael (Jake Hoffman).

Marian and Vivian may be identical physically, but their lives couldn't be more different. The former apparently fled their hometown six years ago in search of excitement while the latter settled down and is hoping to become pregnant one of these days. Marian likes to visit bars and hit on strangers while Vivian prefers to do gardening.

superior review

Marian keeps her marital details secret from her sister, who insists that she take a job at a local ice cream parlour so she can contribute to her bed and board. After a few shifts at the parlour, which is run by a pot-smoking 16-year-old (Stanley Simons), Marian begins to moan about having to perform manual labour. Vivian proposes that they swap identities and she pretend to be Marian, working at the parlour just to get out of the house. While Marian stays home, Vivian has her eyes opened to a new world beyond domesticity.

As the two sisters switch identities, so too does the film trade its focus from Marian's flight - from either her hubby (if he's still alive) or the police (if she killed him) - to that of Vivian's liberation. The latter simply isn't as interesting as the former, as it feels underplayed and should really have more time devoted to it. Unlike the similarly themed Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene, the threat to Marian from the life she's fled never quite feels tangible here. In fact, we forget all about it in parts until the movie does something to remind us about it.

superior review

Superior works best when it moves away from its very Sundancey, quirky subplot to explore its darker material. With its 1980s setting (likely to avoid the storytelling inconvenience that is the modern cellphone and internet) and grainy 16mm photography, it has an alluring visual appeal, like some lost '80s oddity restored by a boutique blu-ray label. The movie seems heavily influenced by Cammell's Performance, with its protagonists' gradual trading of identities, while some of its darker moments wouldn’t be out of place in Cammell's underseen '80s thriller White of the Eye. Ultimately it all feels a little derivative, but in Vassilopoulos, who displays an ability to create a striking image, and her twin leads, we feel like we're seeing the emergence of a trio that will go on to great things. Like her film's protagonists, it feels like Vassilopoulos is experimenting with someone else's established style. I look forward to seeing what she might produce when she finds her own identity.

 is on Prime Video UK now.