Lifetime Review: 'Sisters for Life'
Briana Femia is one sinister sorority sister in this intense, well-acted Lifetime college thriller.
At Beta Delta Chi, Jana Spicer (Maddison Bullock) is excited for the new semester and the new crop of pledges looking to join her sorority. Among those pledges is transfer student Bailee Adams (Briana Femia), a girl Jana quickly clicks with as Bailee reminds her of how she was when she first joined Beta Delta Chi. But it doesn't take long before Bailee's adoration goes from awkwardly sweet to full-on unsettling. It's not enough for Bailee to have Jana as her "big sister" within the sorority; she wants to be Jana's new best friend and spend every waking second with her. As the semester goes on, alarming events rock Beta Delta Chi and Jana finds her personal and academic lives coming undone. Is it all a coincidence? Or is Bailee prepared to do anything to make sure Jana remains her sister for life?
Much like fellow MarVista Entertainment sorority thriller Secrets on Sorority Row, Sisters for Life has some comedic bits peppered into its otherwise straightforward Lifetimey tale of obsessive friendship. If you tuned in just in time for the montage of girls interviewing for a slot in Beta Delta Chi, you might think you were watching a college comedy. While these interludes mostly disappear after the first act, they still add a splash of something unexpected. That's not to say Sisters for Life is a dull thriller. While the plot is nothing new for Lifetime, the suspense that comes from watching Bailee silently scheme against Jana and the rest of the sorority without arousing overt suspicions is pretty entertaining.
The action is paced well and ends in a dark conclusion that is only undone by the climax's laughably executed ending. It's not the only unintentionally funny scene in Sisters for Life, with the other scene taking place in a library and seeing a minor character suddenly develop a fatal case of bad reflexes. Overall, the film avoids meandering about as much as Secrets on Sorority Row does and has more consistent drama to keep you engaged between Bailee becoming a pledge and Bailee letting her true colors fly.
Lifetime protagonists have a track record for being naïve, and Jana Spicer halfway fits that moniker. While Bailee does a fairly decent job pretending to be a neurotic but harmless girl, Bailee is just outwardly unhinged enough to where Jana shouldn't fall so easily for Bailee's tricks. But she does, and it's especially bizarre how no one questions the blatantly suspicious circumstances under which Bailee joined Beta Delta Chi in the first place. But once you get past that, it's easy to like Jana's easygoing personality and compassionate willingness to take Bailee under her wing, even as her little sister's devotion to her starts to get overbearing. Once she finally starts seeing Bailee for what she is, Jana makes up for her obliviousness by apologizing for it and working to find proof against Bailee. She may frustrate you at times, but Jana is ultimately a likable protagonist whose habit of being too nice gets her in a lot of trouble.
As for Bailee, she's a deliciously twisted villainess who's fun to watch in action. She unapologetically plots to make herself Jana's only friend, all while grinning at her handiwork and throwing out snarky remarks when she can. At the same time, it makes sense that Jana would initially not see her clinginess as cause for alarm. As I said before, she does a good job making herself appear to be a demure young woman in need of a friend. Bailee might even succeed in making the viewer sympathize with her as she recounts tragically losing her twin sister to suicide. SPOILER ALERT In a nice little twist, though, it turns out that Bailee didn't lose her sister to suicide: she killed her because she was trying to leave and start her own life. In that sense, Bailee is able to trick the audience just as much as she tricks Jana. Spoilers Over
Appealing side characters include Jana's supportive and genre-savvy friend and boyfriend Arielle and Kyle and fellow Beta Delta Chi sisters Samantha and Cori. The latter two are a pair of lovably chipper girls who are unlucky enough to end up inadvertently getting in Bailee's way--something she doesn't take kindly to. There's also sorority president Steph, but between her passive-aggressive attitude and how quickly (and cruelly) she turns on Arielle when she ends up falling victim to Bailee's machinations, she's the least endearing of the BDC crew.
Sisters for Life is also similar to Secrets on Sorority Row in how it features a handful of strong performances. Maddison Bullock gives a stellar lead performance, which helps keep Jana likable whenever she starts acting dense. Bullock effectively captures Jana's affable nature and allows you to feel for her when her life starts falling apart because of Bailee. Briana Femia is just as good here as she was in Malicious Motives, bringing bonkers Bailee to life with vigor. Femia even lets you see Bailee's insanity gradually escalate as the film goes on, starting at around a 7 before cranking up to 10 by the final act. She's also great when it comes time to deliver the more tragic side of Bailee's character, which makes the revelations made in the finale all the more shocking.
Of the supporting cast, Heather Lynn Harris makes the most impactful impression. In addition to giving Arielle all the sass and attitude necessary to play a Lifetime heroine's best friend, she also makes you feel Arielle's indignation when Jana and later the rest of her sorority sisters assume the worst about her and desert her. Tyler Lain is just as charming as the kind, level-headed Kyle while Kambra Potter nails Steph's uptight demeanor and nasty streak. Camryn Basile and Taylor Fono are memorable in their own rights too, playing Samantha and Cori with more than enough perky energy to make you like them--and then make you squirm as the girls fall into Bailee's web.
Thanks to it having a few more thrills throughout its first two acts, Sisters for Life edges just ahead of Secrets on Sorority Row on the rating scale. It also boasts strong casting, an intense climax, and smooth pacing that keeps you from tuning out. The cheesy action sequences and daft decisions made by Jana may pull you out of the story for a little bit. But all in all, you'll spend more time gleefully watching Bailee stir up chaos than you will be groaning at how blind Jana and company are to the psychopath they've invited into their sisterhood. So if you're in the mood for a Lifetime college movie marathon, Sisters for Life is a solid thriller to include on the playlist.
Score: 7.5 out of 10 conflict resolution classes.
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