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Little Sister
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October, 2008. Young nun Colleen is avoiding all contact from her family, until an email from her mother announces, “Your brother is home.” On returning to her childhood home in Asheville, NC, she finds her old room exactly how she left it: painted black and covered in goth/metal posters. Her parents are happy enough to see her, but unease and awkwardness abounds. Her brother is living as a recluse in the guesthouse since returning home from the Iraq war. During Colleen’s visit, tensions rise and fall with a little help from Halloween, pot cupcakes, and GWAR. Little Sister is a sad comedy about family – a schmaltz-free, pathos-drenched, feel good movie for the little goth girl inside us all.

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Little Sister online movie review - Life Beyond the Goth Years

Young nun Colleen (Addison Timlin) is avoiding all contact from her family. Returning to her childhood home in Asheville, North Carolina, she finds her old room exactly how she left it: painted black and covered in metal posters.

Being raised in a Roman Catholic community, I was immediately drawn to the subject matter and the plot does spark some questions. Perhaps this is only regional (I don't think so), but there seems to be a decline in nuns, particularly new ones. They are seen in the community less often, and convents have closed down. So to have a lead character that is actively pursuing such a vocation is striking, as she is going against the flow of society at large.

Let's talk about the lead character, and the talent who plays her, Addison Timlin. The actress had her film debut in the gritty "Derailed" (2005), and has more recently starred in "Odd Thomas" (2013) and "The Town That Dreaded Sundown" (2014). No doubt she has been turning heads, and with "Little Sister" she will be turning many more. The character of Colleen is complex and versatile, and Timlin captures the core of who Colleen is with aplomb.

Although there are many themes that could be examined with regard to Colleen (not the least of which is her familial interactions), what struck me was the idea of growth and change. Colleen is an example of how our teen years are not necessarily an indication of adulthood. Someone in the "goth" scene listening to records about dead babies and Satan is just about the last person you would expect to join the Church, but it certainly is not impossible. We all know high school "losers" who went on to great things, and popular kids who flushed their life away.

Colleen's odd bloody baby dance (possibly the highlight of the film) complements the "growth" theme, and shows there are parts of ourselves that we can never let go of. Despite moving on, Colleen is clearly still comfortable in her goth skin. One might ask: is goth culture consistent with being a good Christian? Can someone be a nun and sing about bloody babies? The answer is yes. Just as horror fans ? who surround themselves with fictitious murder stories -- are some of the kindest people on earth. As strange as it may sound, there is no contradiction between telling dead baby jokes and simultaneously upholding the value of life.

Supporting Timlin is Barbara Crampton in one of her best roles, far more serious than her early horror work under the legendary Stuart Gordon and with far more depth than her soap opera stints. Crampton's role is smaller but memorable, and her legion of fans will be sure to savor every minute. Also supporting Timlin is Ally Sheedy, who has always been a treat from her 1980s John Hughes era up through her appearances on "Psych". In "Little Sister", Sheedy is not the most lovable (she might even be seen as a villain), but it's never a bad idea to cast her when you can.

Interestingly, I felt the film has a 1980s sensibility, despite the occasional overt politics and the use of certain technologies like webcams (though cell phones seem to be rare in North Carolina). And I use the 1980s reference as the highest compliment. Being set in 2008, there is a sense of the film being anti-Bush, including a 9/11 performance art piece, and I could have done with less of the politics. The only reason to be set in 2008, so far as I can tell, is to have a reason behind the fate of Colleen's brother with the war in Iraq still going strong. But that wouldn't have been an exclusively 2008 thing.

And speaking of Colleen's brother, a special note of congratulations must go to Brian Spears. I've admired Spears for a long time now through his makeup work with Larry Fessenden, Jim Mickle, Ti West and others in the "Mulberry Street Gang". He goes all out in "Little Sister", making what could be one of the most convincing burned man prosthetics ever put to film.

Written by Melodie Sisk and Zach Clark, directed by Clark, and produced by Clark, Sisk, and Joe Swanberg, "Little Sister" is a film that defies genres. It is never quite funny enough to be an outright comedy, and it seems insulting to lump it under the catch-all of "drama". All I know is that it is a fun and empowering film, and should be watched and enjoyed by any fan of the fantastic film genres. The film has its premiere at Fantasia International Film Festival on July 28, 2016.

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