Sundance Review: Superior
Cinema loves duality. From doppelgangers to mirror images, The Parent Trap to Face/Off, the notion of paired identity is one that filmmakers love to play with, for understandable reasons — in a visual medium, lookalikes and swaps are fertile territory for laughs and thrills alike. In her debut feature Superior, director Erin Vassilopoulos is the latest to attempt to mine the concept, but can’t quite fully tap into what makes a double story sing.
Inspired by Vassilopoulos’ 2015 short of the same name, Superior follows two identical twin sisters — Marian and Vivian — as Marian returns to her hometown after several years incommunicado, disrupting Vivian’s seemingly idyllic life in the process. As the mysteries unravel, it becomes clear that both are on the run in their own ways, making the prospect of sharing their lives back and forth particularly tantalizing — that is, until darker forces make their way into the equation.
What immediately stands out about Superior is a casting coup that few similarly-themed films are able to take advantage of; rather than have an actor play opposite him- or herself, Superior makes use of co-writer Alessandra Mesa and her twin sister Ani Mesa (Marian and Vivian, respectively) to provide tangibly distinct performances that make it easy to track who’s who without having the actors resorting to too many quirks or tics.
Unfortunately, the novelty and potential of twin actors is undermined by a sense that everyone is in a little over their heads. Critically, Vassilopoulos isn’t quite able to salvage a script that’s overladen with heavy handed dialogue and suffers narratively from a muddled plot that ends up mostly spinning its wheels. The Mesa sisters have chemistry with each other, but similarly don’t appear comfortable selling either their conversations or the necessary emotional beats that could potentially help the film overcome its limitations.
That’s not to say there aren’t redeeming qualities on display. Notably, much of the underlying technical work is very sound: Jessica Moss’ score is appropriately eerie, seamlessly changing tones in a way that complements the narrative, and Allison Pearce’s costuming stands out, popping in every scene while serving both character and theme. Both these elements are on display in the film’s final sequence — which also happens to be its strongest — but despite going out on a relatively high note, Superior ultimately fails to cohere and make the most of an intriguing premise.