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In an age where the number of likes, retweets and follows you get is more valuable currency than money itself, it’s no surprise that the horror genre has taken to incorporating things like influencer culture into their social commentary. That’s just what happens in Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes‘ darkly comedic satire Sissy, which follows social media influencer
Sissy Cecilia (Aisha Dee, Channel Zero, The Bold Type) as past traumas resurface during a bachelorette party (or hen party, since this is an Australian film) weekend that turns murderous.
Sissy follows Cecilia and Emma (Barlow, pulling triple duty as the film’s co-writer, co-director and co-lead), two teenage friends who were inseparable until Alex (Emily De Margheriti) arrived on the scene and bullied Cecilia, leading to a violent incident that forced the two to part ways. Twelve years later, Cecilia is a successful social media influencer with 200,000 followers living the dream of an independent, modern millennial woman. After randomly running into Emma one day, Cecilia is invited to her bachelorette weekend with her friend group and her fiancée Fran (Lucy Barrett) at a remote cabin in the mountains. Unfortunately for Cecilia, that remote cabin belongs to Alex, bringing back Cecilia’s trauma as murderous mayhem ensues.
As Cecilia, Aisha Dee is a real find. She is a flawed but empathetic character that, played incorrectly, would have the audience turning on her in a second, but Dee’s performance imbues the character with the necessary pathos required to make a character like this work. Cecilia isn’t a bad person, but she wants so desperately to fit in that the ways she goes about doing so are awkward, killing the vibe of Emma’s friend group. It’s a situation many of us have been in, and while it can be funny, it’s more often tragic to watch Cecilia try and fail to earn the favor of Emma’s friends. Not helping matters is the fact that Alex repeatedly antagonizes her in front of everyone. There will be viewers who find Cecilia annoying, frustrating or even insufferable, but those with any empathy will understand Cecilia’s actions, even though they may not excuse them.
This is where Sissy‘s critique of influencer culture comes in, but not in the way you might expect. Yes, conversations are had about the validity of influencers, especially the ethical issues of unlicensed individuals like Cecilia offering mental health advice to complete strangers, but the film is more interested in seeing the toll that living online can take on someone and their social skills. When Cecilia is publicly embarrassed by Alex, she retreats to the bathroom to read comments from her fans and watch her likes skyrocket. This has become a crutch for her in times of distress, with the platitudes that her followers leave her (or the schadenfreude she gets from reading complaints about their life problems) acting as a replacement for a real-life social circle. Followers aren’t friends, after all, and no matter how many you have they don’t replace genuine human connections.
There’s a good conversation here about bullying and how much good will that earns the protagonist before we turn on her, and how people can use past trauma as an excuse to behave reprehensibly (even if those behaviors are unintentional). Cecilia’s trauma set her up to fail, but she also hasn’t done any work in the years since to overcome it and better herself. Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t bode well for Emma’s bachelorette party. Sadly, Sissy seems more interested in being a slasher movie as it heads into its third act than it does on following through with this conversation. This makes for a gorily entertaining climax; it’s just not a particularly revelatory one.
Speaking of gore, gorehounds will find plenty to love here, with the third act getting gnarly with its kill scenes. The practical effects are all stellar, with the brutality cranked up to 11 as more bodies start to pile up. The film is never scary, but it’s also not trying to be. Calling Sissy a horror comedy would be a bit of a stretch, but there’s a certain playfulness to the proceedings that prevents things from getting too dark.
Outside of Cecilia, none of the characters are fleshed out, with many being flat-out unlikable (that last part isn’t really a critique, but more so a warning to those who like to root for characters in their horror films). One wishes the film had delved more into Alex’s psyche as well, but it seems content to leave her as a one-dimensional bully. Also, it’s depressing to see a queer horror film’s sole gay male character relegated to predictable stereotypes (he’s sassy and loves Britney Spears. How novel.).
Sissy joins the ranks of films like Tragedy Girls (review), Shook, and Spree (review), genre films that all incorporate and criticize social media and influencer culture to various degrees of success. Sissy falls somewhere in the middle, but those comparisons should let you know whether or not this movie will be for you. At the very least, it’s a gory good time.
Editor’s Note: This SXSW review was originally published on March 14, 2022.
Sissy will premiere exclusively on Shudder on Thursday, September 29.