Grief and guilt are very powerful emotions. In the German thriller, FOUR HANDS, sisters Jessica and Sophie have experienced their fair share of grief. As children, home invaders murdered their parents in cold blood. Older sister Jessica was able to shield young Sophie from these horrible events, but Jessica saw everything happen. As the girls grow into adulthood Jessica becomes increasingly paranoid, unstable, and vastly overprotective of Sophie. When Jessica discovers the murderers are being released from prison she spirals out of control, and she will stop at nothing to protect her little sister from the world.
Writer and director Oliver Kienle (Stronger Than Blood) crafts a very suspenseful and emotional plot. At its core, the film is about how the two sisters deal with the loss of their parents and the release of the killers 20 years later. It is fascinating to see how the sisters are polar opposites in this regard. While Jessica seems crazed at times – and to us it seems as though she overreacts to things – these reactions are much more understandable when you consider the trauma she has experienced. All Sophie wants to do is forget and move on with her life, but Jessica won’t let her. Kienle does a fantastic job of allowing Jessica’s paranoia to spill over not only to Sophie, but to the viewers as well.
FOUR HANDS is incredibly tense, primarily because it blurs the lines of what is real and what is not. The suspense builds slowly as the plot progresses. Kienle does this by making the audience, and the characters, unsure if what transpires is supernatural or psychological. There are times when it seems as though something ghostly is at work, while other times it appears the only answer is the character has lost her mind. The way the story is told forces the viewers to try to fit the pieces of the puzzle together, each piece slowing being revealed and shedding more light on the truth, until the climax of the film when everything comes together in a haunting and beautiful way.
The two lead actresses in the film deliver stunning performances. Frida-Lovisa Hamann (“Reformation”) plays younger sister Sophie. Hamann’s portrayal is likely the strongest in the film. She is able to show how Sophie was able to move on from the tragedy of her youth, only to have everything come crashing down around her 20 years later. Sophie’s mental state deteriorates to the point where she can’t tell whether she is dealing with something supernatural or if she is just as unstable as her big sister. Friederike Becht (The Reader) gives an equally compelling performance as the older sister, Jessica. Jessica alternates from being concerned and maternal towards her little sister, to being almost rabid in her viciousness and willingness to do anything to protect Sophie. Becht is outstanding in this role and portrays that ferocious side of Jessica quite well. The two leads together offer a great juxtaposition of two completely different women in the beginning, to showing how similar they truly are in the end.
The film uses visuals to enhance the feeling of paranoia and isolation. The most obvious instance of this is with Jessica and Sophie’s home. It is a large old house with nothing else around it. This lonely location emphasizes the fact that these sisters only have each other to rely on. The color palette is also overtly bleak. There are no truly vibrant colors, giving everything a cold grey tinge. It gives the film an overall depressing aesthetic that blends well with the plot. Another great visual is the use of long takes, which are typically used when showing Jessica’s perspective. Not only are these long takes very well done, but they also give the audience a visual cue to emphasize the differing perspectives of the two sisters. All of these elements combine to enhance the story in compelling ways.
FOUR HANDS is a powerful, haunting, and stunning film that explores human emotion and loss. The plot Kienle creates is a puzzle viewers solve along with the protagonist, allowing for the suspense to slowly build until finally reaching the thrilling climax. Both leads, Hamann and Becht, deliver memorable performances as the tragic sisters. The almost colorless palette, long takes, and dreary sets only enhance the tone of the film. HOUR HANDS takes a firm grip of the viewer and holds on tight, making it one you won’t want to miss.