REVIEW – ‘The Sister’ From Hulu

Guilt and deception are a very dangerous combination.  Imagine always looking over your shoulder, and never knowing if that secret that you have will ever be revealed.  Of course, when you do look over said shoulder, you're probably not going to see the sister of said secret.  That is just part of the premise of the new Hulu miniseries, The Sister which arrived this past weekend.

Before I give you my spoiler free thoughts on the miniseries, here's a full synopsis provided by Hulu: "How far would you go to keep a secret? One rainy evening, Nathan is surprised by an unwelcome face from the past. Nathan has never been able to forget the worst night of his life: a party that led to the sudden, shocking death of a young woman. Only he and Bob, an eccentric old acquaintance, know what really happened… and they’ve resolved to keep it that way. But years later, Bob appears at Nathan’s door with terrifying news that threatens to tear Nathan’s world apart. Because Nathan has his own secrets now. Secrets that could destroy everything he has desperately fought to build for himself and his family."

The four-part series is written by Neil Cross and is inspired by the novel Burial.  Cross was a writer on the series as well, but if you're a fan of the book, they did make one significant change to this particular story.  The general idea is still the same, but to me, this is more than a minor tweak.  Sure it adds another element to how the story can be told, but it also creates a pretty big problem.  I can't get into specifics because of spoilers but, in my opinion, it's hard to find a hero in this scenario.  The problem throughout the story is, there is no one that I found myself rooting for.  You could root for the truth, sure, but even that seems like a hollow victory given the circumstances.  So, what that leaves you with is whether or not you are interested to see how the story plays out.  There are some plot twists to keep you interested, and they do a good job of making it feel like the lid could be blown off of this secret at any moment, but at what cost?  I just kept feeling this sense of a no win scenario, which made me almost dread the payoff more than anticipate it.

By far the best part about this series are the individual performances from Russell Tovey (who plays Nathan) and Bertie Carvel (who plays Bob).  Every time I heard Bob speak, it gave me chills.  You just know this is not someone you want to be sharing a secret with.  It's not just Carvel's delivery of these words, but his body language that adds to the unease and unpredictability of Bob.  The way he tortures Nathan at every turn really makes you wonder what he could possibly do next.  Again, the problem is, sure I hated Bob but that didn't make me feel sorry for Nathan at all.

See for yourself in this clip:

Tovey's portrayal of Nathan really sells the internal torture that he is going through.  That doesn't absolve him of the fact that he brought all of this upon himself in pretty much every way that you possibly could.  It's almost like Nathan is constantly trying to sell himself on the fact that he's been doing, and continues to do, the right thing.  I found myself feeling more and more that Nathan was just more selfish with each action.  He also makes some pretty stupid mistakes, mostly in the flashbacks, but it just adds to the lack of sympathy for his character.  You could even make the argument that he is more of a villain in this story than Bob is.

One element that really interested me in this story was, and this is a MINOR SPOILER, but there is a supernatural aspect to this story.  They don't lean as heavy into that as they could have, but it does really ramp up the psychological torture on the two aforementioned characters.  Had they put a bit more of the focus on that, especially early on, I think that would have made me a bit more interested.  Even if it was just something lurking in the background of the story, and you weren't sure when it was going to pop up.  The fact that it ends up being a key plot point would have been another reason to pay more attention to it.  The problem is, they waited too long.

The Sister also relies heavily on flashbacks, which are drawn out throughout the four episodes.  Most of the time, I'm not a fan of this, as I would rather just get all of the information from a flashback episode (or even half an episode) and then move on to the rest of the story.  In this case, I actually think this slow burn of flashbacks placed strategically throughout each episode worked.  If the story got slow, the flashbacks were there to pull you back in and almost remind you what the stakes are and why everything it happening in the present.  It was also a reminder of just how deep the deception really goes.

I'm really torn on how I feel about this miniseries.  The suspense was certainly good, and the individual performances by the actors really were solid.  I don't want to leave out Amrita Acharia (who plays Holly) and Nina Toussaint-White (who plays Jackie), because they might be the only ones you have any sympathy for or root for.  Unfortunately, that also brings me back to my main point:  who wins here?  I get it, sometimes in life, there are no winners.  Maybe that's part of the point that is trying to be made here.  At the same time, when you're watching something like this, you typically want to see someone get what they deserve and then see the person(s) that were wronged get the happiest ending possible.  Everywhere you look in this story, there is pain.  Even if certain characters get their closure (and I'm not saying they do, because no spoilers), is that a win?  On the surface you might think so, but the more I  watched this miniseries, the less I believed that to be the case.  Had the supernatural aspect been more of a focus throughout, I feel like that could have given you that someone/something to root for.  Instead, these great performances ultimately added up to a missed opportunity for me.  I think you'll find that The Sister is indeed interesting, but lacks a true light at the end of the tunnel.

Photo Credit:  Robert Viglasky/ Hulu