An impressionist prologue establishes the miserable life of a hooker (Brooke Henderson) who winds up killing herself while attempting a scissors abortion in a sleazy motel … years later, the dead woman’s daughter Helen (Alanna LeVierge) is a troubled bicycle messenger, daredevil in her job but timid in her personal life, sharing a flat with a longtime friend, struggling actress Molly (Nina Kiri). She seems to be haunted by the mother she never knew and who wanted to kill her – drawn to the motel where her mother died and obsessing about her ‘bad blood’, though it turns out her ghost isn’t who she thinks it is. Helen is injured in a road accident and recovers slowly, also suffering from disorienting blackouts – waking up across town in a parking structure or with wounds that suggest she’s had bad experiences – and an array of disturbing physical symptoms, including sicking up hair and finding a human finger inside her arm-wound. An artist (Michael Lipka) who tries to hit on her sketches a portrait of a brazen alter ego and Molly’s boyfriend (Adam Christie) acts as if he’s met this other Helen and become masochistically involved with her. The root of Helen’s problem is ‘vanishing twin syndrome’ – an undeveloped sister absorbed into her body in the womb – which means she is in danger of being overwritten by another, more dangerous personality.
It’s a female twist on Jekyll-and-Hyde, drawing a little on the recent run of girlie body horror (Bite, Contracted) but more interested in the fractured psyche than the twisted body (though La Vierge is an admirable contortionist) until a Barkerish turn in an inevitable finale which finds Helen trying to rid herself of the monster within in the most literal manner imaginable. Director Cody Calahan (the Antisocial films) and writer Adam Seybold (an actor in Exit Humanity, Ejecta and others) stick with Helen’s viewpoint for the first two-thirds of the film, eliding the spells when her sister is the dominant personality and tipping in flashes of the terrible things she’s done (this works especially well in a long scene between Helen and Molly where Helen keeps having lapses and coming to with her hands around her understandably annoyed best friend’s throat), though eventually the film pulls back and shows her shifting between personae and bewildering the people she’s with, all of whom somehow fall under her influence (though it’s a shame we don’t get more of a sense of how attractive or plausible the’Hyde’ side might be – she comes over as a shrieking sexual sadist). LeVierge is impressive as the tormented protagonist and the inside-out storytelling manages to keep the interest going even though the actual plot (Helen goes crazy) is fairly slight.
It fits in interestingly with some artier efforts, like Black Swan and The Neon Demon, though here it’s the normal flatmate who has the showbiz aspirations – perhaps feeding off the drama in her best friend’s life, but also losing out as Helen’s alter ego tramples over her. Calahan, a Canadian auteur, makes nighttime Toronto suitably flashy and menacing.