★★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
See . . . a giant astronaut level a city! See . . . an alien tribunal put a human woman on trial! See . . . a surreal, visually rich, jaw-dropping excursion into madness and beyond! See . . . Joe Badon’s Sister Tempest!
Directed by Joe Badon
Director Joe Badon’s films occupy a space all their own between genre mashups and genre defiers. Sister Tempest, his sophomore follow up to 2017’s The God Inside My Ear, is as wild, wacky, and wondrous as that debut, if not even more so, combining elements of everything from psychodramas to kaiju cinema to supernatural horror to melodrama and beyond — and it all comes together masterfully.
Art teacher Anne (Kali Russell) is put on trial before an intergalactic council after the disappearance of her younger sister Karen (Holly Bonney), who went missing after her criminal boyfriend was shot in front of her. Grief and doubt haunt Anne, and when new student Ginger Rogers Breadman (Linnea Gregg, star of The God Inside My Ear) turns up in Anne’s class, the two strike a bond that eventually sees Ginger becoming a surrogate for Karen. After Ginger moves into Karen’s home, though, she becomes the worst kind of roommate, and I’ll leave it at that so as not to spoil things, but horror fans, here is where the surreal savagery really kicks in.
That’s a rather simple plot synopsis for a two-hour film that features tokusatsu characters, religious imagery, flashback-heavy narrative, public domain footages, and oddball interludes galore. But part of the charm of Sister Tempest is giving into its futuristic-retro vibe and spotting Badon’s homages and influences.
Badon is also a musician (he and Jason Kruppa wrote the screenplay and score for the film together), artist, and comic book creator, and those talents play heavily in Sister Tempest. Embracing the independent film’s low budget with practical special effects such as seen in a giant astronaut’s destruction of a miniature city and costume designs ranging from thrift store chic to delightfully brash — you haven’t seen this much lamé in a movie in ages — Badon crafts a world in which anything can happen, and looks fabulous doing it.
The plot is nonlinear — as I mentioned earlier, flashbacks are frequent here — but never nonsensical, though it does follow its own logic, which dances between odd dreams and nightmares. Beloved 1950s and 1960s science-fiction cinema outings crash together with 1970s arthouse and Eurohorror, with Lynchian overtones and even some melodrama reminiscent of Douglas Sirk — and those are just a handful of the elements at play here.
The cast is a blast, and the kookier minor performances are grounded by Russell’s all-in dramatic turn and Gregg’s daring representation of the going-insane daughter of an Idaho potato farming family.
Sister Tempest is an experience, and though treatises could, and probably will, be written about it, I will keep my review short and as spoiler-free as possible, and simply recommend that lovers of offbeat, unusual, avant garde, independent, and arthouse cinema give two hours to Joe Badon’s latest feature, and prepare to have your minds blown.
Sister Tempest will screen as part of NOLA Horror Film Fest’s virtual version, which runs from September 25th through the 27th. For more information, visit https://nolahff.com/.