Sister Wives (2024) Short Film Review

Sister Wives (2024)
Director: Louisa Connolly-Burnham
Screenwriters: Louisa Connolly-Burnham
Starring: Louisa Connolly-Burnham, Mia McKenna-Bruce, Michael Fox

It starts getting worrying in contemporary life when someone playing Snake on an old Nokia is a sign of times long past, but this is the state of things. Historical fiction films can now talk about security camera surveillance and phones and texts as part of a world that has passed us by without it seeming anachronistic, or futuristic. Sister Wives mastermind Louisa Connolly-Burnham hasn’t simply used someone playing Snake as a sign of the historical setting of her short film, however; instead she weaves it into the narrative both thematically and for plot motivation. Phones are a way of getting information, and in the strict, deeply Christian, polygamous world of Utah 2003, phones could cause havoc for the society that Jeremiah (Michael Fox) has constructed with his repressed wife, Kaidance (played by writer-director Connolly-Burnham). Even more havoc than the introduction of Galilee (Mia McKenna-Bruce) into the family could cause. Even worse than the feelings the sister wives feel for each other when Jeremiah leaves to go on mission work for several weeks. God forbid one of them has a phone without the community elders knowing.

The film rightfully crafts a tense, austere atmosphere for much of its thirty minute runtime. The decision to leave music out of all but the most necessary, poignant scenes gives everything an air of still watchfulness and suspenseful quiet. The daggers Kaidance throws to Galilee become quick glances and amorous looks, but all the while the film remains quiet. The music that does come in is synth-filled, a sign of the technological escapism from the controlling world they inhabit. The colours are dull and muted, all life driven out of the silent world that women are forced to inhabit in their archaic dresses and enforced cultural and educational backwater.

Everything is kept tight and controlled, nothing is wasted. Where other thirty-minute films could end up feeling rushed, here the ending is appropriate and feels correct. The introduction of key plot points is done well, and although a few bits of dialogue have moments of archaic vocabulary which feel slightly out of place to modern audiences, it’s understandable why they’re in there, to reflect a dialect completely defined by older translations of the Christian Bible.

The main duo of Louisa Connolly-Burnham and Mia McKenna-Bruce (How to Have Sex) give great performances, anchoring the film in two likeable but changing characters. As the film is, in many ways, a relatively simple story of forbidden love, they have to bring nuances to the subtle moments to elevate a basic premise to something touching. Their growing laughter, the odd touch, the secrets given out as they grow more comfortable with each other, are made truthful and real through their performances. Michael Fox similarly presents a unique character in that his strength and power comes from the institutional control he has been granted by his sex, and not through his actual ability. A scene of intimidation at the start aside, his control is quiet and gentle but firm, a different kind of domination from the roaring and shouting you might expect. It’s certainly chilling, and Fox gives these moments the gravitas they deserve.

In some ways, Sister Wives is a troubling look at the influence of others in societies built to control them, and in other ways it is a flourish of colour and a rally-cry for freedom of life and expression. It delivers on multiple levels – there are many parallels here to Celine Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire or even Milos Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

There might, as Kaidance says, be ‘eyes and ears everywhere,’ but goodness flourishes even in places where grain has been scattered amongst thorns. There are many films that present technology as the downfall of humankind, but on occasion cinema shows how the distorted telepresence of technological worlds can break bonds of oppression. Sister Wives is a quaint, heartfelt short film for all colours and creeds, and a wonderful piece of filmmaking.

Score: 20/24

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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