If there’s one thing that’s made abundantly clear throughout Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes’ Sissy it’s that some childhood friendships should remain dead and buried.
This bitingly funny Australian horror tells the story of Cecilia (Aisha Dee) and her childhood friend Emma (Hannah Barlow).
Cecilia is a social media influencer in the health and wellness space who has racked up a massive follower count and numerous sponsorships. But away from ring lighting, affirmations and breathwork Cecilia lives in a dark, dingy flat and appears to subsist on takeout pizza instead of green juices and organic food.
It’s a far cry from videoing herself and Emma as 12-year-olds, singing to late 90’s / Y2K pop duo Sister2Sister’s hit song Sister and vowing to be friends forever. Cecilia has tried to distance herself from her past and her childhood nickname, ‘Sissy’, which ended up being the moniker she was mocked with by Alex, the girl who would usurp her as Emma’s best friend…with unexpected consequences for both Alex and Cecilia.
When Cecilia unexpectedly bumps into a now-grown-up Emma at a pharmacy, Emma invites her to her engagement party and her subsequent bachelorette party.
Cecilia reluctantly says yes to both, but any chance of a happy reunion with her former bestie is thwarted when the bachelorette party attendees arrive at the remote cabin location where Alex (Emily De Margheriti) will also be staying. Cue the supreme awkwardness of trying to fit in with Emma’s already well-established friend group and Alex’s overt hostility towards Cecilia.
This tension and hostility will increase further when Alex prods Cecilia about her career as an influencer, effectively tearing her down and discrediting what she does in front of Emma’s friends. Alex is unrelenting in her spite towards Cecilia, and what happened between Alex and Cecilia in childhood is nothing compared to what happens the next day.
In the aftermath of a violent altercation between the two where Cecilia comes out on top, all hell breaks loose as she finds herself exacting violence on the remaining partygoers.
On the surface the way I have described Sissy makes it sound like a formulaic revenge/slasher flick, but it’s anything but. Barlow and Senes’ script is deeply, darkly funny from the outset.
They have managed to cast a wry, acerbic light on the superficiality of influencer culture and the superficiality of childhood friendships. For instance, the face masque sponsored by Cecilia on her social media platforms is called… Elon Masque.
Better yet, when Cecilia actually wears this masque, it resembles the mask worn by Michael Myers in the Halloween franchise, with the shape of the masque also mirroring the hockey mask of Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees. It’s a subtle but effective wink to horror history. Sissy also features delightfully gross, gooey gore effects that will either have you wincing in disgust or squealing with sick delight. Either reaction is completely appropriate. In one of the most biting takes on social media culture, Cecelia does a live stream after burying a body.
The livestream subject? The power of kindness.
Sissy will have you questioning where you stand regarding Cecelia and her actions.
Barlow and Senes’ script acknowledges that in life there are grey areas. The audience has been with Cecelia since the beginning of the film, and she is our guide throughout but her decisions have dire consequences. Not only that, it’s easy to empathise with Cecelia due to the bullying and social isolation she received because of Alex. This makes it harder to be objective when we are faced with watching Cecelia receiving a fresh barrage of vitriol from a grown-up Alex.
That’s one of the benefits of having Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes as the scriptwriters but also as directors (with Barlow in the role of Emma as well), because they are able to steer their vision more explicitly from the page to the performances so that the nuances, wit and humour are captured effectively.
Sissy is filled with the Hitchcockian tension for the social media generation, coupled with phenomenal performances from all involved. The film would be a great movie night companion with Halina Reijn’s Bodies Bodies Bodies which is very much in the same vein as this film.
Just make sure you actually trust the friends you’re watching the films with…