Whether we like them (or follow them) or not, influencers – sorry, “content creators” – are a cultural mainstay in our society that often extends beyond the environment of social media. In Australian horror effort Sissy, co-writers/directors Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes seem all too aware of the faux importance influencers place upon themselves, a potentially dangerous mind-set that, for its titular characters, gradually descends into bloody warfare that furthers the notion that the perfect lives on your Insta feeds are anything but.
Sissy, or as she actually prefers to be known, Cecilia (Aisha Dee), is a wellness influencer who has amassed a substantial following for herself thanks to her numerous body and mind-positive posts where she sprouts the importance of meditation and face masks. She is of course doing this from the one spotless corner of her messy apartment, racking up the likes and comments as she noshes on day-old pizza and binges trashy reality television. How influential indeed.
Despite her seeming relatability and enviable lifestyle, Cecilia has no desire to reconnect with Emma (writer/director Barlow), a grade school friend she bumps into on a quick visit to the pharmacy. Emma seems delighted to see her, so much so that she invites her to both her engagement party and celebratory weekend getaway. Nervously agreeing and politely smiling her way through the party, there’s flashes of the genuine friendship Cecilia and Emma once had, but it’s all too evident that the confident personality she has perfected online is masking a far more insecure reality for the lonely Cecilia.
Hoping that perhaps the weekend away with Emma, Emma’s wife-to-be, Fran (Lucy Barrett), and the colourful duo of Tracey (Yerin Ha) and Jamie (Daniel Monks) will help cleanse whatever trauma Cecilia is holding onto, the harsh reality of her past actions proves ultimately inescapable when Alex (Emily De Margheriti) arrives. Alex was Cecilia’s bully at school – Cecilia blames her for “taking Emma away from her” – and, through a series of deliciously melodramatic flashbacks, we learn Cecilia, who was dubbed “Sissy” by a taunting Alex, acted out in a fit of violence that has left Alex physically scarred.
Time evidently doesn’t heal all wounds, and despite Cecilia’s best intentions of projecting the romanticised version of herself she has created, Alex’s bitterness threatens to uncover Cecilia’s actions, sending the film on its eventual path of gory destruction; without giving too much away, to say the latter half of the film is head-crushingly violent would be an understatement. Sissy‘s descent into revenge-themed horror sets up an interesting dynamic for the film as so much of it designed for us to feel for Cecilia’s plight. She’s constantly referred to as a “psychopath” by the genuinely horrible Alex, and whilst De Margheriti all too perfectly encapsulates that unlikeable mean girl energy, the more Cecilia starts to unravel, the truer the psychopath moniker sticks.
Like all people, the characters presented here are flawed, embodying certain traits that don’t make for the nicest of company. Does that mean they all deserve to be brutally offed? Not necessarily. But you can’t help but admire Sissy‘s commitment to its campy, over-the-top gory temperament, exploring some of the deeper questions Barlow and Senses’ script asks whilst setting up classic horror set-pieces that nearly-always end in wince-inducing gore; the psychological effects of bullying and how it can emotionally trouble someone may be suggested but it’s far from Sissy‘s sole purpose for being.
Gross and darkly funny without undermining the damaging thematics explored, Sissy takes the trusted genre scenario of being alone in a cabin in the woods and laces it with a queer, female-strong gaze, resulting in a homegrown effort that furthers Australia’s relationship with horror – a connection that is oft overlooked. You may not be able to believe everything you see online, but trust that Sissy – anchored by Dee’s wholly committed performance – is one such property worthy of your following.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Sissy is screening as part of this year’s Sydney Film Festival, running between June 8th and 19th, 2022. For more information head to the official SFF page. The film is scheduled for a national release on October 27th, 2022.
Sissy was originally reviewed as part of this year’s SXSW Film Festival coverage.