Monday, January 4, 2016

Bad Sister (Johnson Entertainment Group, Golden Oak Entertainment, Lifetime, made 2015, released 2016)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2016 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

After Don’t Wake Mommy (and the previous night’s disappointment from The House Sitter) I was beginning to wonder if the formulae of Lifetime movies were beginning to pale with me. Fortunately the next one, Bad Sister, was considerably better, a film that came from the creators of what I have come to call the “Whittendale universe” — producer Ken Sanders, director Doug Campbell and writer Barbara Cum-Licker (oops, I mean Kymlicka) — because the stories either take place at the fictitious “Whittendale University,” a highly prestigious (and expensive) private college, or feature high-school seniors desperate for admission there. There seems to be uncertainty in the cycle as to just where Whittendale University is; I believe one film in the series mentioned it as being in Vermont, but the locale of this film is St. Adeline’s Catholic high school in Los Angeles and the Bradys (Robert Leeshock and Lise Colleen Sims), parents of the juvenile leads, fraternal twins Jason (Josh Plasse) and Zoë (Jessica Honor Carleton), talk about driving there to see it over a weekend — which would be quite a long drive indeed. From the title I might have expected a romantic or professional rivalry between two sisters, good and bad, something like the 1931 Universal film Bad Sister (Bette Davis’s first film and an early credit for Humphrey Bogart as well, in which — much to the astonishment of anyone who knows Davis from her later credits at Warner Bros. — Davis played the good sister and Sidney Fox, the Girl Named Sidney, played the bad one) — but no-o-o-o-o, instead it’s a recycling of the previous Whittendale film Dirty Teacher, but with the kinkiness level ramped up big-time by making the sexually avaricious teacher bent on seducing poor, (relatively) innocent Jason Brady is a nun, Sister Sophia (Alyshia Ochse) — or at least, as we begin to suspect well before any of the characters do, an impostor posing as a nun — who’s been hired as a teacher at St. Adeline’s after her previous employers, a Catholic high school called St. Valentine’s in Missoula, Montana, gave her glowing recommendations.

Only, as we begin to suspect from the moment Sister Sophia unpacks “her” conservative brown underwear and then the bright crimson bra and panties she really likes to wear — and the panties are not only considerably hotter but noticeably smaller as well — she waylaid and knocked off the real Sister Sophia and assumed her identity. Like every other bad girl in the Whittendale universe (which seems to consist exclusively of corrupt female teachers going after male students and nubile young girl students selling themselves to rich men to pay Whittendale’s tuition), she’s willing to do anything to get Jason into bed with her, including giving his sister Zoë an undeserved C-minus on a history exam (and then entrapping Zoë into cheating on the makeup test by leaving the answers on her desk in plain sight, then reporting her when she looks at them) and slipping a marijuana cigarette into the textbook of her rival for Jason’s affections, “fast” student Sara (Sloane Avery), and a bottle of alcohol under the mattress of Jason himself. This last is a particularly effective frame because during the summer before the story takes place, the underage Jason was busted for driving under the influence, which convinced his hard-nosed dad that he was a scapegrace who needed tough-love discipline to get him on the right track, and in particular to aim him for a first-rate college instead of taking a year off to pursue a music career, which is what Jason wants to do with his life. He’s got as far with music as writing a number of songs, filming himself performing them, and posting the results on social media — which was where the false Sister Sophia first encountered him; she heard his songs, thought they indicated a mystic bond between them and set out first to meet and then seduce him. Sophia eventually gets Jason to have sex with her, first in his dorm room (emblazoned with various music-related wall hangings, including one which is a sort of combination of a treble clef and a guitar) and then, in the film’s most deliciously kinky scene, in the confessional booth of the school’s chapel, where Jason has gone to confess the sin of fornication and finds that the person on the other side of the booth isn’t the school’s priest (Hugh B. Holub, who frankly looks too Jewish to be credible as a Catholic priest) but is his crazy co-fornicator, who corners him in the booth and gets him to get it on with her then and there. (During the movie someone started a message board on called “Implausible,” to which I contributed a post that say one shouldn’t expect anything but implausibility from a film set in the Whittendale universe of Sanders, Campbell and Kymlicka, and someone replied to me that being seduced in a confessional was “a 14-year-old private school adolescent’s wet dream.”)

Like many a Lifetime villainess before her, Sister Sophia is so determined to eliminate potential competition that she sneaks into the women’s showers and grabs hold of Sara, pummeling her against the tile wall until she seems to be dead (fortunately, Zoë comes in and discovers her in time to save her life), though Sophie’s favorite method of murder is sneaking up behind people and clubbing them with blunt instruments. It’s how she did in the real Sister Sophia, and towards the end she gives the same treatment to the Mother Superior, Sister Rebecca (a nice voice-of-reason performance by Helen Eigenberg) and in the climax is shown sneaking behind Jason and Zoë in the chapel after Jason and Zoë have sneaked into Sophia’s room and found both the laptop she took from the real Sister Sophia and her own, which contains hundreds of photos of Jason (the old cliché in which the obsessed person posts hundreds of physical photos of their obsession object on their wall has given way to this higher-tech version of hundreds of photos on their computer) and reveals her real name as “Laura Patterson,” though in the earlier scene in which she ambushed and killed the real Sister Sophia, the real one knew and addressed her as “Candice.” She’s about to club them with a church candlestick when the priest and Sister Rebecca come in and overpower her; Sophia once again tries to kill Sister Rebecca — this time by strangling her — only Jason is able to grab the screwdriver he and Zoë previously used to pick the lock of Sister Sophia’s room and fatally stab her with it, saving the Mother Superior’s life and ending Sophia’s reign of terror. There’s a tag scene in which Dad Brady, finally resigned to Jason’s ambitions for a musical career, gives him a guitar while he gives Zoë a car so she’ll have one at Whittendale.

Bad Sister was good clean dirty fun in the best Whittendale-universe tradition, effectively directed by Campbell and mostly well acted; Josh Plasse looks way too preppy in his short hair and ubiquitous dress shorts to look credible as an aspiring rock star (though the songs composed for him by musical director Steve Gurevitch aren’t bad at all; throughout the film I couldn’t help but remember that Bruce Springsteen went to Catholic school, and some of his early songs have bitter anti-Church comments like “Nuns walk through Vatican halls pregnant/Preaching immaculate conception” that were clearly influenced by that experience, though the character cites Justin Bieber as his role model and his music is considerably closer to Bieber’s than Springsteen’s, while he sings in such a high voice for a man one of the other characters says, “You sing like a girl,” and when my husband Charles came home in the middle of one of Jason’s songs he said, “Why is he trying to sing like Tracy Chapman?”) and the film would probably be more believable if he’d worn his hair in the Elvis-style cut of his head shot. Alyshia Ochse delivers a marvelous performance as the psycho pseudo-nun, managing indeed to come off like a 14-year-old parochial schoolboy’s wet dream of the woman he’d like to lose his virginity to and maintaining her balance between her nun identity and her slut reality even though writer Kymlicka has her lay a trail a mile long, including not knowing the “morning prayer” with which she is supposed to begin every first-period homeroom class, and calling on the students to lead it instead. (One person on that message board wondered why she didn’t bother to learn the morning prayer.) Sloane Avery also strikes a nice balance between her character’s genuine romantic, as well as sexual, interest in Jason and her reputation as the “fast” girl on campus, as if she thought she could get Jason by making herself seem sexually available to every guy on campus. The actors playing the parents don’t have much of a chance to do more than play the stereotypes — hard-assed father and relatively indulgent mom — and the other people on campus (except for Helen Eigenberg’s finely honed performance as Rebecca) are pretty much an anonymous mob, but Bad Sister is overall a nicely entertaining, if frankly unbelievable, movie that’s a pleasant time-filler as well as a good clean dirty exercise in the quirky kinkiness of the Whittendale universe.