Sunday, August 5, 2018

Killer Twin (Pender Street Pictures, Reel One Entertainment, Lifetime, 2018)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Last night’s Lifetime “premiere” was Killer Twin, originally shot as A Sister’s Obsession — for once Lifetime’s retitlers came up with something that was actually an improvement — which was basically a reworking of the Bette Davis vehicles A Stolen Life (1948) and Dead Ringer (1964), in which La Davis was cast as a good twin and a bad twin and one Davis literally tried to take over the other Davis’s life. This time the killer twin and her non-killer sister were played by Lindsay Hartley, who’s hardly in Bette Davis’s league as an actress but at least was competent and believable, and she and director David Langlois restrained the scenery-chewing so as bad twin Amber Sheridan she was believable instead of florid, while she actually seemed more suited to the role of good-twin Kendra Collins Walker. The multiplicity of last names is explained by a prologue set in an orphanage in Seattle (we could tell it was supposed to be Seattle because the first thing we see is an aerial shot of the Space Needle, and since this is Lifetime and the production companies are Reel One Entertainment and Pender Street Pictures, I instantly guessed — correctly — that writers Dave Hickey and Jenna Brister laid the story in Washington state so it could be filmed just across the border in British Columbia, Canada). The place is run by Eunice (Bronwen Smith), an imperious petty tyrant, and it makes Jane Eyre’s Lowood look like A. S. Neill’s Summerhill by comparison.

Eunice’s charges — at least the only two we get to meet — are sisters Kendra (Elise Irwin) and Amber (Amelie Irwin) Sheridan (though we don’t learn their last name until almost the end of the film), who are supposed to be three but looked more like five to me. Eunice cozies up to Kendra but treats Amber hatefully, and when a wealthy couple, Mr. and Mrs. Collins, comes to the orphanage looking for a child to adopt (in the usual tradition of Lifetime couples they’ve tried reproducing au naturel but she’s miscarried), Eunice presents them Kendra but lies to them and says she’s an only child — thereby breaking not only ethical but legal rules as well, since the law in Washington state (at least according to this movie) is that twins can only be adopted together. So Kendra gets a nice home with a well-to-do family and a classy career as a teacher, while Amber lives at the orphanage until she ages out at 18 and then becomes a petty crook, making her living (at least as far as we can see) by stealing high-end cars and selling them to a chop shop. The film flashes forward with a typical Lifetime chyron, “30 Years Later,” and 30 years later Kendra has just been named Washington’s Educator of the Year. She’s got her picture taken receiving this honor, and Amber sees the photo on the front page of a throwaway local paper and immediately starts hatching her revenge plot. She goes back to the orphanage and confronts Eunice — who, even though she was supposed to be a homely woman in the first place, still should have been made to look older than she did in the prologue set 30 years earlier — who refuses to give her access to the records of her sister’s adoption. So Amber simply kills Eunice, knocking her to the floor and then smothering her with a pillow, though incredibly when the police find the body they and their medical examiner miss all the evidence of strangulation and determine Eunice died from a fall. 

Meanwhile, Kendra not only has a prestigious career (at least as prestigious as any career in K-12 education ever gets in the United States!), she’s also married to a drop-dead gorgeous hunk named Dane Walker (Jason Cermak), and we blessedly get a lot of nice shots of the two of them together in bed, with him topless and showing off a nice musculature. For once the “good husband” in a Lifetime movie is being played by someone genuinely sexy instead of the usual lanky, sandy-haired mediocre actor who generally gets these parts, and though one might suspect that somewhere along the way the evil sister seduced her good sister’s husband and got him to participate in her plot, blessedly writers Hickey and Brister didn’t go there. Instead they establish that Dane has actually got Kendra pregnant, so after years of joshing that she’s been taking care of other people’s children but hasn’t had any of her own, Kendra is aout to do what her adoptive mom was not and reproduce au naturel. Amber traces Kendra to her home and breaks in — Kendra hears her and calls the cops, but they arrive too late to catch the burglar — and she takes care not to steal anything tangible except for little things that wouldn’t be missed immediately, like her invitation to a dinner at which Kendra as Educator of the Year is supposed to give a presentation, and her safety-deposit key (which, as Charles noted, looks like an ordinary Schlage-style house key and not a real safety-deposit box key). But she does go through Kendra’s wallet and note down all her credit-card information, which she uses to max out all her accounts so the next time Kendra goes shopping, all her cards are declined and she has no idea why. Fortunately, the police — or at least the one police officer we see, Detective Nick Mahoney (Peter Flemming) — is smarter on the uptake than most Lifetime policemen, and he makes the connection between the burglary at Kendra’s home and the identity fraud against her. 

Then Amber starts posing as Kendra in public, and though she’s studied enough of Kendra’s public record she can convince people up to a point, she constantly gets tripped up by not knowing intimate details of Kendra’s life. When she shows up at Kendra’s bank to loot the safety-deposit box of the heirloom jewels Kendra’s mom Janet Collins (Candice Hunter) gave her — and which Kendra wanted to recover so she could wear them during her mom’s impending visit to celebrate her upcoming grandmotherhood — the bank officer, Marvin (Nelson Wong), inadvertently exposes her by thanking her for recommending that seafood restaurant where Dane proposed to her — and Amber doesn’t know its name. Marvin threatens to report her as an impostor, and Amber takes up the safety-deposit box itself and hits him over the head with it (blunt objects seem to be her preferred weapons through most of the film, though she’s also strangled someone and later she uses a knife). All this is captured on the bank’s security video, so not only are both Kendra and the police aware that there’s someone out there who looks like Kendra who’s impersonating her for criminal reasons, they have a pretty good idea who that is — even though Kendra had repressed any memory of even having a twin until she starts having dreams that flash her back to the orphanage and enable her to put two and two together and figure out who her impersonator is and what her motive is. Amber keeps giving herself away, and at one point Kendra’s best friend Monica (Bethany Brown), the typical Lifetime heroine’s African-American best friend who catches on to the villain’s scheme but gets killed before she can tell anybody, confronts Amber, notices she’s “off” and, you guessed it, gets killed by Amber with a knife before she can tell anybody. The finale occurs when Amber sneaks ground poppyseeds into a fruit basket being sent to Kendra — Amber is deathly allergic to poppyseeds and, as her identical twin, Kendra is too — and Kendra eats the tainted fruit and is hospitalized. Sure that she has killed Kendra, Amber impersonates her at the education banquet, gives Kendra’s speech, and then tries to make it with Kendra’s husband Dane in the kinky soft-core porn scene we’ve been expecting all movie — only Dane notices that Amber is missing Kendra’s birthmark, catches on and breaks off the proceedings before he’s had the chance to penetrate her. 

The finale occurs after Amber learns via an intercepted e-mail that Kendra is still alive, and she goes to her home to finish the job after first confronting Kendra’s adoptive mother Janet and asking why Janet and her late husband didn’t adopt her, too. Janet protests that she didn’t even know Amber existed, and they would have had no trouble taking a second child if they had, but it’s too late: Amber clonks Janet with the nearest blunt instrument and leaves her to die — though as things turn out, she doesn’t — and then she goes to Kendra’s and Dane’s home for a final confrontation (Kendra left the hospital early with Janet when they learned from a TV news show that Monica had been killed), with Amber armed with a kitchen knife and Kendra with a baseball bat. The two have a big fight scene (though I suspect director Langlois used doubles extensively to create the illusion of Lindsay Hartley fighting Lindsay Hartley) which ends with Kendra — stop me if you’ve heard this before — pitching Amber off the staircase rail and sending her plunging from floor two to floor one, though Amber survives and Detective Mahoney arrives on the scene in time to arrest her. The finale takes place Six Months Later and features a visibly pregnant Kendra with Dane watching TV coverage of Kendra’s latest career advance — she’s been promoted to superintendent of her school district — and then cuts to a scene of Amber in prison watching the same scene on a jailhouse TV and telling the other prisoners in the room to quiet down so she can hear the sound. One of her fellow prisoners, a diesel-dyke type with a killer Mohawk, says, “That woman looks an awful lot like you!” The End. Killer Twin is a pretty good Lifetime movie, though throughout it one’s reminded of all too many other movies that did these tropes better — and frankly I think I would have liked it better if one of the sisters had killed the other early on and then been forced to continue the imposture: in fact, at one point I had thought that Amber would kill Kendra, successfully take her place, then have the moment of truth occur later when everyone realized that “Kendra” was not about to have a baby!