Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Bad Twin (Maple Island Films, Daro Film Distribution, Litetime, 2016)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Alas, the quality of Secrets of My Stepdaughter cast something of a pall over the next film up on Lifetime’s schedule, The Bad Twin (neither nor Lifetime’s own publicity had the definite article in the title, but it’s there in the opening title credit). This time the protagonist is played by Haylie Duff, one of the rare actresses in a Lifetime lead who actually has a reputation in the bigger world of entertainment (though judging from her credits list, her reputation seems to be more from being Hilary Duff’s sister than her own résumé). Duff plays Dr. Kim Burgess, a psychiatrist who hosts a local radio show in which she gives advice to various callers with “issues.” One day during her broadcast she gets a call from a woman who claims she’s just a fake and doesn’t know anything at all about how people really tick, and screams about how Dr. Burgess can represent herself as an expert on “families” when her own is wildly dysfunctional. Kim gives her call screener a nod and the screener hangs up on the woman in mid-call, but the woman later confronts her outside the studio where she’s signing a few copies of her books for fans and turns out to be her sister Cassandra “Cassie” Murphy (Jacy King). Cassie is the mother of 15-year-old twin daughters Olivia and Quinn, both played quite effectively by Grace Van Dien, who turns in an accomplished performance in which she’s able to communicate by slight differences in intonation and posture which girl is which. (The effects work that allows both Van Diens to appear on the screen together is also quite good, though there are a number of shots in which one twin has her back to the camera and it’s obviously a stand-in or a double.) 

Cassie has just been declared an unfit mother by the child protective services department and has been put in a mental hospital, and rather than let her nieces go into foster care Kim agrees to take them in even though she doesn’t know the first thing about parenting. Kim has a boyfriend, Kevin (Scott Bailey), who’s cute and so young-looking he seems more like her son than her partner, but he’s a pretty milquetoast character. At first the twins carry on a war of intimidation against their aunt, including stealing valuables from her home and burying them in her backyard, but then in a video call with their mom in the institution mom gives them written instructions so the hospital staff can’t see what she’s communicating with her daughters. She instructs them to find Kim’s will — which, when they do, it turns out leaves her entire fortune to a charity instead of the sisters or their mom — and then, when they get a face-to-face visit, she plays Scrabble with them and spells out the words “ADOPTION” and “BE NEEDY.” This gives the girls the message that they’re supposed to go all out to get Kim to adopt them legally — and Olivia, who’s clearly the “alpha” of the two, seeks out not only to get Kim to adopt them but to knock off anyone who might stand in the way of that plan. The first to go is Kim’s producer and close friend Gail (Charlotte Graham), whom Olivia knocks off by taking her to the beach, burying her in the sand (all except her head) and letting the tide come in and drown her. An poster noted two plot holes in this sequence: “[F]irst, the damp sand over her was not deep enough to prevent her from freeing her arms and digging herself out. Second, the rising tide would have taken hours to reach the point it did instead of the minutes shown. Due to this time delay, Gail would have been discovered and rescued.” Still, as powerfully directed by John Murlowski (working from a script by Alix Reeves), it’s one of the best and most frightening scenes in the movie even though it might have worked even better if Olivia had been shown piling rocks on top of the buried Gail so she really could not have got out on her own. Later Olivia overhears mom’s boyfriend Kevin questioning whether she should adopt the girls, and Olivia responds by picking poisonous mushrooms and substituting them for safe ones in the dinner she and Quinn are making for Kim and Kevin that night — only Quinn, who though she’s heavily under Olivia’s spell does have a conscience, takes out the poison mushrooms and puts in the ones originally intended for the meal. 

It ends with Kim and Cassie going for a drive in the country, only Olivia has brought along a wooden box containing bees from a hive on Kim’s property — Kim is deathly allergic to bees (which makes one wonder why she allows a hive to remain on her property instead of having it removed) and she goes into shock when Olivia releases the bees in the confined space inside the car and they get in her hair and repeatedly sting her. Kim loses control of the car and drives it off the road, and the other three throw her out of the car — only Quinn, once again having an attack of conscience, throws out Kim’s antidote pen and so Kim is able to bring herself to and watch as crazy Cassie drives the car into a tree. Cassie is killed — a scene heralded by a title saying “Eight Months Later” and a shot of her tombstone — and Quinn is, or at least seems to be, ready to adjust to life with Kim and Kevin, while Olivia is in a mental hospital, though the final shot shows the two girls together and, even though they’re separated by a wall, Olivia’s hold over her still seems strong. The Bad Twin is a good movie but it didn’t seem as interesting as it would have if it hadn’t been preceded by the superior Secrets of My Stepdaughter, and I think the main problem with it is there’s no real suspense. Unlike in Secrets of My Stepdaughter — or the obvious model for this sort of story, The Bad Seed, which writer Reeves was so blatantly ripping off she might have well have called it The Bad Seeds — we know from the beginning the twins, Olivia in particular, are up to no good. And as well as Grace Van Dien acquits herself as the twins, it’s all too obvious she’s modeling her performance on Patty McCormick’s in The Bad Seed — which pretty much has set the template for how to play a child psycho. The Bad Twin is decently done and offers a few of the frissons Murkowski and Reeves were clearly after, but it’s not that good and it doesn’t offer the sinister progression of its models in which we first took the psycho girl(s) at face value and only later realized they were psycho.