Sissy – Fantasia 2022

By Naomi Roper

Cecelia (Aisha Dee) is a social media influencer. A burgeoning wellness guru, her feed is a haven of positivity, mental health platitudes and beautifully curated shots of herself. But her inner peace is shaken when she runs into Emma (Hannah Barlow who also co-writes and directs) in a store. She & Emma used to be best friends as children. Emma is getting married and after an impulsive drunken night out invites Cecelia to a weekend away celebrating her upcoming wedding. A nervous Cecilia agrees only to arrive and find she’s living her worst nightmare. The event is hosted by Alex (Emily De Margheriti) Cecilia’s childhood bully who taunted her by calling her “Sissy.” Alex is horrified at Cecelia’s presence and as Alex’s resentment spills over the stage is set for a killer showdown.

Funny, vicious and cheerfully unhinged Sissy is a fierce and wonderfully gnarly horror debut from Aussie co-writers and directors Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes.  Whilst ostensibly a horror comedy Sissy is shot through with a sharp sense of melancholy. Cecelia for all her 200,000 followers on Instagram is horribly, desperately lonely and just looking for someone to love. She sees the weekend as a second chance at friendship and it is agonising to watch events spiral horribly out of her control. While mocking the fake nature of social media (a sequence where Cecelia posts an inspirational vid while something truly horrific is lurking just out of shot is hilarious) crucially the movie never mocks Cecelia. She has crafted an identity and a sense of worth through her online presence that she is justifiably proud of and that has truly helped her. Throughout the movie we see her return again and again to her followers’ comments trying to seek comfort from them, a comfort she can’t get from reality. The movie lurches from comedy to heartbreak in seconds and writers Barlow and Senes handle the tonal sea changes well.

The movie is shot with an Instagrammer’s palette – so much muted pink and pastel. The showers of stars Cecelia sees as we follow her on her journey are beautiful and show how her online world of fake curated beauty is seeping into her every day. Thankfully though Senes and Barlow do not skimp when it comes to the blood. Sissy turns into quite the splatterfest in its final act with one eye-popping sequence after another.

The movie lives or dies on whether you care for Cecelia and Aisha Dee is brilliant. You want only good things for her. Your heart breaks for Cecelia as she winds up on this horribly ill-conceived trip surrounded by people who vacillate between being completely baffled at her presence to being actively rude. Emma’s friends aren’t terrible people per se (although a couple are verging on “woke” parody) but they just don’t want Sissy crashing their party. There is an undercurrent of racism in every interaction, the very blonde, very white Alex has with Sissy and her youthful desire to push Sissy away from the equally blonde and white Emma.  Cecelia is our point of view character and the movie needs you to be 1000% Team Sissy as when things go south, and oh my do things go south, we need to be fully on board with Sissy’s actions. Even if they are a little, well, extreme. Sissy just wants to be loved and she’s prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure no one takes Emma away from her again.

Wickedly funny and surprisingly sad Sissy is May for the Instagram generation and I cannot think of a higher compliment.

Sissy screened at the Fantasia Film Festival and has been acquired by Shudder.