Released in 2016, California-born daughter to Loatian parents, director Mattie Do brings us her second horror film, DEAREST SISTER. A slow burn psychological thriller, Do returned to Laos to create this tale of family, classism, and ghosts, written by Christopher Larsen.
Ana (Vilouna Phetmany) is going blind, and local Lao doctors are at a loss as to why. Her handsome, yet distracted husband, Jakob (Tambet Tuisk), hires Nok to come help Ana in their home. Nok (Amphaiphun Phommapunya) is a cousin of Ana's from a poor village and her family sends her because they need money. From the beginning, Nok is treated as an outsider by everyone - by Ana who considers her help and therefore shouldn't be living in the house, to the maid (Manivanh Boulom), and the gardener (Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy), both of whom are openly jealous of her house privileges, while sleeping outside in a covered shelter.
As Nok begins to make headway with Ana, she starts to learn Ana's secret; she sees ghosts, and they talk to her, giving her winning lottery numbers. Nok uses this discovery to better her position in life; but, moving up the ladder means enemies, and the maid and gardener take notice. Ana soon comes to depend on Nok, calling her sister. At first, Nok is there to care for Ana, but we come to see Nok's motives change, and she starts to trigger Ana's episodes in search of more lottery winnings.
Jakob is busy, always running off to deal with his business which is in danger of being shut down due to an imminent inspection. It is clear that he loves Ana, but his anxiety over business problems escalate with each return home, finally coming to a head with business partner Kenji (Brandon Hashimoto), who threatens to divulge their secret accounting books if Jakob doesn't get his act together.
After the maid and gardener are dismissed, Ana and Nok become bitter enemies, with Nok trying for one last batch of lottery numbers so she can leave, but those plans are derailed when the maid and gardener exact their revenge.
DEAREST SISTER clearly illustrates the class systems still prevalent in many cultures, the greed it creates, and the subsequent crimes committed by the poorly educated lower class as they attempt to get rich quick. This story is a slow burn, and you're going to be doing a lot of reading, as most of the film is in Laotion with some Thai sprinkled in. That said, the movie is incredibly well done. The effects used to create the ghosts are subtle, but blend in perfectly. The acting feels so natural (the venom aimed at Nok by the maid and the gardener couldn't be more perfect!). It clocks in at 1 hour 40 minutes, so make sure you have some time to devote to this one, as it is most definitely worth it.
Nikki Von Frankenstitch
DEAREST SISTER is now available to stream on Shudder