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Brianna Zigler

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Superior – first-look review

Familiar thematic elements come together in Erin Vassilopoulos’ riff on the doppelgänger genre.

In her feature directorial debut, Sundance alum Erin Vassilopoulos returns with a continuation of her 2015 short film of the same name. Superior is propelled by a heinous crime that prompts wayward musician Marian (Alessandra Mesa) to seek refuge from retribution in her hometown, at the house of her estranged twin sister Vivian (Ani Mesa, real-life twin to Alessandra).

Marian tentatively reconnects with her sister after six long years as Vivian, now a stay-at-home wife, tries to conceive with her nebbish husband Michael (Jake Hoffman). With the doppelgänger theme at play from the jump – Marian initially sports a red jumpsuit all too evocative of the ones worn by the Tethereds in Jordan Peele’s Us – the sisters’ identities slowly begin to blend into one another. Yet the familiar identity swap narrative does little to expand upon a tried and true motif.

After setting up camp at Vivian’s, Marian assures her sister that her absence is simply a result of her demanding life as a travelling musician, claiming that she’s “been all over” and just recently returned from a stint in Paris. While Vivian is skeptical that Paris would lead Marian’s band to her podunk hometown, she is nonetheless happy to finally spend time with her sister – although her presence proves a strain on Vivan’s already faltering marriage.

When Michael finally demands that Marian pull her weight to stay for an extended period of time, Marian takes a job at the local ice cream parlour. But after her first day of work, Marian convinces Vivian to switch places with her for just one day so that she can spend time on her music. Now sporting identical haircuts (Marian already having swapped her blond do for the brunette hues of her sister), the twins quickly grow accustomed to each other’s lives, and a single day of Vivian serving scoops turns into several.

Inevitably, Vivian enjoys the simplicity of a food service job, free of her household and sexual responsibilities to Michael, while Marian finds peace in the plant-tending quaintness of domesticity. And, also inevitably, the difficulty in discerning who’s who grows stronger as the film pushes forward, blatantly foreshadowed early-on by a sequence where the sisters can’t remember which one of them accrued a welt on their forehead as a child.

The film’s shortcomings can mostly be attributed to its predictability. Engaging performances from the Mesa sisters and retro-inspired production design – for a film whose time period is unplaceable – can’t quite save the transparency of the plot. The doppelgänger narrative has been popularised across film and television by everything from the aforementioned Us, to the works of David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Charlie Kaufman, and even Adam Sandler, and Superior is neither an incompetently executed nor insightful addition to the genre.

Published 31 Jan 2021

Tags: Sundance Film Festival Superior

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