One of the most tried-and-true relationships explored in horror is the bond between sisters. Bound by blood, for better or worse, female siblings make for a powerful dynamic in the genre. Whether meant as minor characters, like the creepy twins in The Shining, or the central focus, like Brigitte and Ginger in Ginger Snaps, sisters tend to steal the spotlight. What is it about this relationship that makes them so appealing in horror? Sisters can be both vulnerable and powerful; they can seemingly exist as one or their opposing personalities can make for intense rivalries. In horror, there’s no shortage of examining the love and hate connection between female siblings.
When it comes to cinematic twins, is there a more iconic pair than the Grady sisters in The Shining? They were minor characters, ghosts that terrorized Danny, but their monotone, haunting delivery of their lines in unison solidified them in horror memory. In horror, twins are creepy because they’re two separate people acting as one. There’s a foreign aspect to twins, who often seem to live in their own world, and their personalities are so entwined that to live without the other can drive them to madness. In Brian de Palma’s Sisters, Margot Kidder played both Danielle and Dominique, conjoined twins whose separation has driven one of them to homicide. They don’t know how to exist without the other. For these twins, the loss of that close connection proves fatal.
The older sibling is often the one with the stronger personality of the two. Having to forge a path in life as well as assume the role of caretaker, the older sister bears the brunt of responsibility. The weight of it can drive the sister to madness, as it did Su-mi in A Tale of Two Sisters. Su-mi’s younger sister Su-yeon is the only one who understands her, and the love she has for her sibling is evident. Yet, there’s a strong sense of guilt over Su-mi’s inability to protect her sibling from the wrath of their father’s mistress. Su-mi’s guilt stems from tragedy and leads to a fractured mind; her only anchor to reality lies with Su-yeon.
In We Are What We Are, elder sister Rose struggles with her budding independence and familial obligations. Her younger siblings look to her when their mother’s death leaves them alone and fearful of their father. When Rose does finally choose how to navigate this cannibalistic family dynamic, younger sibling Iris instantly follows suit.
Sometimes, though, being the older sister means letting go no matter how much love exists for the younger sister. As was the case in Andrés Muschietti Mama. Orphaned and raised in the woods by creepy entity “Mama,” Victoria and Lilly struggle to live in the real world, especially when “Mama” follows them to their new home. Victoria, the elder of the two, adapts far more easily than her feral younger sister, which ultimately leads to heartbreaking sacrifice.
Hidden behind her sister’s shadow, the younger sister often struggles to get out from her older sibling’s dominating personality. Though the film might be called Ginger Snaps, the story is really about Brigitte learning to stand on her own, her strength fueled by her desire to save her sister’s dramatic physical changes brought on by lycanthropy and puberty. Though her sister continues to fight against Brigitte’s growth, going so far as to literally haunt her in Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed, Brigitte paves her own strange way in life.
Julia Ducournau’s Raw depicts a very similar adversarial relationship between younger and older sibling, forgoing the werewolves in favor of cannibalism. For awkward Justine, her foray into her freshman year of veterinary school proves all the more difficult with the presence of her polar opposite older sister, Alexia. It’s through Alexia’s hazing that awakens Justine’s body changes and literal lust for flesh, furthering the antagonistic rivalry between the pair. Even though Justine and Alexia can barely stand each other, there’s no one better suited than each other in understanding what these cannibalistic urges mean.
Even when they’re at each other’s throats, sisters still love each other. Sometimes that love is absolutely frightening.