TV Review: ‘The Sister’

Review by James Lindorf

Neil Cross, the writer and creator of the hit BBC show “Luther,” is back with the new supernatural thriller “The Sister.” Cross adapted his own novel “Burial” into a four-part limited series that first aired on Britain’s ITV. The tale of guilt, grief, and things that go bump in the night has crossed the pond thanks to Hulu. All episodes of “The Sister” will be available on the streaming service Friday, January 22nd.

The series takes place at three different time points. 2009, which focuses entirely on the night everything started to go wrong for Nathan (Russell Tovey). 2013, Nathan, tormented by his secret, tries to make amends in possibly the most ill-advised way in human history. The third and final time point is the present-day. Nathan may be turning the corner, but his life is turned upside down when Bob (Bertie Carvel), who is the only other person who knows what happened that night, knocks on his door. “The Sister” also stars Amrita Acharia (Game of Thrones) as Holly, Nathan’s wife, and Nina Toussaint White (GameFace) as Jackie, a detective, and Holly’s best friend.

“The Sister” has a very bleak look and feel. Now, most of that could be chalked up to terrible British weather and the constant sobbing of its main character. Still, I have to believe talented cinematographer Ben Wheeler (Alex Rider) had some involvement in that. Having one person in charge of photography and a single director in Niall MacCormick gave the series a more theatrical feel than one may typically expect from a television series. “The Sister” is essentially a movie that, instead of being a 2-hour theatrical experience, was stretched into a 4 hour, four-night experience. Fans of the Stephen King mini-series events from the ’90s should be familiar with the concept and some of its shortcomings.

“The Sister” would have been more suspenseful if it had been trimmed to a three-night event or even a 2-hour movie. All the events in 2009 could have been summed up in a single flashback, two at the most, and a little dialogue. Instead, we travel back more often and for longer durations as the show goes on. Too much time is spent spinning their wheels and going over the same material time and time again, but what keeps it from losing me is the stellar cast. Nathan is a complex character. Yes, he did something terrible, but does that make him a horrible person. Tovey adds humanity to Nathan, and you almost want to root for him until Nathan starts making more questionable decisions. Though he appears to be affecting a voice, Bertie Carvel oozes desperation and frustration as Bob becomes more unhinged and unpredictable. The show is centered on Nathan and his battle with guilt, which unfortunately results in the show’s women not getting a lot of time to shine. Luckily they are a talented bunch and make the best of the brief moments they are given to shine.

“The Sister” has pacing issues, but overall, it is a strong entry to Hulu’s collection of thrillers. Great performances and atmosphere are enough to pull any sputtering story across the finish line. If this has more people search out Cross’ work and gets us another season of “Luther,” I will like “The Sister” even more.

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