I’ll say this about Erin Vassilopoulos’ Superior, it’s slick, stylish, and kept the suspense going from start to finish. But, is there much beneath the surface? Luscious jewel tones clash with fresh pastels as Marian (Alessandra Mesa) returns to her hometown and arrives on her twin sister, Vivian’s (Ani Mesa), doorstep. Running from a mysterious young man (Pico Alexander), Marian is lying low, hiding from authorities and her past while dodging questions from Vivian and her husband Michael (Jake Hoffman).
There are many moments when Superior feels better fit for a music video or perhaps as a short (which was what Vassilopoulos originally wrote Superior as). The indulgent aesthetics, the grainy cinematography, the 80s synth (by a fantastic Jessica Moss) all add a sort of artificiality. This is not a real place, but it exudes what you might expect from tranquil Small Town America. The costuming is fantastic, from Vivian in her sensible and colorful housewife outfits to Marian’s rocker chic, complete with a white leader fringe jacket. But oftentimes, this shiny veneer comes off a bit shallow, since the film itself is not as rich in detail as the design it sports.
What initially might seem like an unhealthy codependent relationship between the sisters (and it still might be), comes with a quiet suggestion of something more. Memories one sister has, the other one claims to have experienced. Is there something supernatural going on here? Who knows, because it goes largely unexplored. Instead, Marian’s return to Vivian’s life turns them from seemingly estranged for years to becoming interchangeable. They get the same haircut, they pretend to be one another around town. The acting between the sisters feels natural, but the script is stilted. Yes, the actresses playing the characters are actual twins, but the performance is far from flawless.
The main tension of the film is what keeps the suspense going through, and what ultimately had me leaving the film with a more positive than negative feeling. Learning what exactly happened to Marian and what her involvement of her sister will do to them both is impetus enough to keep barrelling forward in the film, even if the final scenes are a little too unbelievable.
The moments where we explore Vivian and Marian’s connection are actually far more emotionally enriching. Similarly, Vivian’s relationship with the stolid and unexciting Michael begs to be explored. I want to see them leave this sleepy little town, I want to see more, I want to know more. Although it’s far from perfect upon closer examination, I can’t deny being lured in by Vassilopoulos’ richly colored aesthetic of Superior. With a stronger script, her vision and visual palette could take her very far.
This film review was based on the premiere at Sundance Film Festival 2021. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution. Photo by Mia Cioffi Henry | Courtesy of Sundance Institute.