SISSY

Reviewed by GREG KING

Directors: Hannah Barlow, Kane Senes

Stars: Aisha Dee, Hannah Barlow, Emily De Margheriti, Daniel Monks, Lucy Barrett, Yerin Ha, Shaun Martindale.

sissy

The COVID pandemic has forced filmmakers to become more creative in their approach, and the horror genre has been one of the genres to naturally lend itself to their small cast and limited locations and settings (and recent films like Barbarian and Bodies, Bodies, Bodies have shown what can be achieved under these circumstances).  

This enjoyable but gory horror film from Australian filmmakers was shot in and around Canberra. The film, which was written and directed by the husband-and-wife team of filmmakers Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes (who also collaborated on the little seen 2019 drama For Now) is critical of the online culture, social media influencers, the wellness industry, but they also tackle the fickle nature of friendships and the long-lasting psychological effects of bullying and childhood trauma.   

Sissy and Emma were best friends at school, virtually inseparable until a nasty and ugly incident ended their friendship. Sissy, now known as Cecilia (played by Aisha Dee, from The Saddle Club, etc) hosts her own self-help mental health Instagram blog offering self-help advice and tips on wellbeing, and her Sincerely Cecilia account has just achieved the milestone 200,000 followers. She is a bit of a loner though and still harbouring a raft of anxieties. Then one day while shopping at the local pharmacy she meets her former BFF Emma (played by writer and director Barlow), whom she hasn’t seen in over a decade. The two briefly catch up, and Cecilia is surprised when Emma invites her to a hen’s party to celebrate her engagement to her girlfriend Fran (Lucy Barrett).  

Initially reluctant to attend because she doesn’t have fond memories of school, Cecilia decides to go along. She shares a car with Emma and Fran, and her friends the disabled and very gay Jamie (Daniel Monks, from Pulse, etc) and his friend Tracey (Yerin Ha, from Halo, etc).  

There are some early ominous signs that foreshadow that this weekend will not end well. They pass a dead kangaroo on the road, and the camera lingers over the carcass which is swarming with flies. And shortly afterwards, the car that Emma is driving hits another kangaroo, killing it. Cecilia is shaken by the incident. And when she arrives at the isolated rural house where the bachelorette party is being held, she is appalled to discover that it is owned by the bitchy and uptight Alex (Emily De Margheriti, from Ladies In Black, etc), the very same girl who bullied her at school a decade earlier and who was responsible for the break in her relationship with Emma.  Alex still bears the facial scar from that violent encounter and seems unwilling to forgive Cecilia.  

Of course, the tension mounts during the weekend as Alex’s constant bullying and snide putdowns take their toll on Cecilia’s fragile state of mind and this triggers unresolved anger issues. Soon the blood begins to flow as the highly strung and increasingly paranoid Cecilia makes some bad decisions. Her accident prone, clumsy nature also leads to some gory deaths. The film serves up plenty of visceral thrills. 

Kudos to the visual effects department for their creative use of prosthetics for the gory bodies throughout the film. Although the body count is relatively small, the level of gore is quite high. But the script also plays some moments for uncomfortable laughs, and the material is leavened with a strong streak of black humour. Barlow and Senes are keenly aware of the tropes of the horror and splatter genre, but they still manage to take the material in unexpected directions that subvert audience expectations. Sissy is laden with subtle nods to some of their favourite films. 

Dee brings a level of humanity and empathy to her role as the deeply flawed Cecilia, whose outward show of confidence hides a raft of insecurities. She seems to make one bad decision after another, which has fatal consequences for the rest of the group, many of whom are decidedly cruel and unlikeable people and you can’t wait for them to meet a sticky end. Our allegiances and sympathies constantly change throughout the film. De Margheriti is perfectly cast as the bitchy and superficial queen bee Alex, but she adds nuance and hidden layers to her portrayal. Ha and Monks provide some touches of humour through their roles as Fran’s obnoxious friends. Newcomer Amelia Yule and Camille Compston are also good in their roles as the younger 12-year-old incarnations of Sissy and Emma. 

There is some great, atmospheric cinematography from Steve Arnold (Last Cab To Darwin, etc) who makes the most of the locations. He often works in extreme closeup, focusing tightly on the character’s faces, giving some insight into their inner thoughts. Michael Price’s bright and colourful design for Alex’s house is also effective. Kenneth Lampl’s creepy piano driven score is effective in establishing an unsettling mood.  

★★★☆

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