Written and directed by Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes.
Starring Aisha Dee, Hannah Barlow, Emily De Margheriti, Daniel Monks, Yerin Ha, Lucy Barrett, Shaun Martindale, Amelia Lule, April Blasdall, and Camille Cumpston.
Teen best friends Cecilia and Emma, after a decade apart, run into each other. Cecilia is invited on Emma’s bachelorette weekend where she gets stuck in a remote cabin with her high school bully with a taste for revenge.
Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes’ (For Now) second feature collab Sissy may be an uneven and unwieldy blend of timely social commentary and gooey horror, but it’s held firmly together by the glue that is their terrific lead actress Aisha Dee.
As kids, Cecilia and Emma were determined to “grow old and poop themselves together in the nursing home,” but 12 years on, the pair have been estranged for more than a decade. Cecilia (Aisha Dee) is now a social media influencer with 200,000 followers built on a personal brand promoting wellness and self-worth, and one day has a chance reunion with Emma (Barlow), who invites Cecilia to join her bachelorette weekend at a remote cabin in the Australian mountains. But a traumatic past shared between Cecilia and one of the hen party’s fellow attendees, Alex (Emily De Margheriti), nudges the celebrations into increasingly uneasy territory.
With social media being a perennial presence in most of our lives these days, it’s little surprise that horror – ever holding a mirror up to society’s trends and fears – has harnessed the world-changing, reality-warping potential of Twitter, Instagram etc to its own darkly satirical ends.
Sissy’s indictment of social media’s potential to cloister people within their own echo chambers, addicted to a feedback loop of dopamine-producing notifications that determine their own perceived worth, may not be particularly fresh, but it is bracingly effective to a point. Wrapped around a wider commentary about how formative trauma can create troubling cycles of victimisation – exemplified by Cecilia and Alex’s historic feud – it ensures Barlow and Senes’ film explores a compelling, under-explored emotional niche.
Fittingly as a member of a generation often ridiculed for its reliance on nostalgia and the comfort of familiarity, Cecilia is indeed desperately afraid of growing up and moving away from her childhood attachment to Emma. Her candy-coloured wistfulness for a period of her life she cannot recapture has dangerous potential when that longing is poked and prodded by Alex, who has incredibly understandable motivations for deeply resenting Cecilia.
The awkwardness of Alex passive-aggressively picking at Cecilia threatens to spill over into violence, though for a good while it isn’t clear quite how far Barlow and Senes are going to take it. Without getting too specific, there is a brutal turn at roughly the mid-point where Sissy leaves its earlier character-driven complexities at the wayside in favour of a more conventional slasher-style romp.
The bodies pile up fast through means both genuinely gnarly and hilariously goofy, the circumstances of which are often convoluted enough to approximate the parodical accidents of Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. Amusing though the grisly death scenes might be – aided by some highly impressive gore effects – there’s a sure disconnect between the more disciplined social critique of the first half and the increasingly schlocky downturn that follows. The resolution to the whole narrative feels especially contrived, even hokey in its predictability.
Yet casting goes a long way, and in this case Aisha Dee’s gripping performance keeps the film entertaining in even its lower-effort divergences. Dee persuasively captures both the subtle effects of trauma and more outward impact, concealing a wealth of mental anguish underneath her pristine, peppy, appealing exterior. It’s a performance that makes us sympathise with Cecilia even while becoming unnerved by her increasingly unstable behaviour.
Fans of Australian horror might be a little surprised at how low on actual gut-laughs this one is, and its 102-minute runtime feels a tad over-egged all things considered, but if you can forgive its overall messiness, this is a worthy sit. Sissy can’t fully reconcile its genuine insights into trauma and social media with its sillier genre elements, but this irreverent Aussie horror benefits enormously from Aisha Dee’s sharp lead performance.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.