This new instant Aussie horror classic takes a bloody stab at the wellness industry and influencers, and features a phenomenal lead performance by Aisha Dee.
November 03, 2022
UPDATE, January 27, 2023: Sissy is available to stream via Google Play, YouTube Movies, iTunes and Prime Video.
Scroll, swipe, like, subscribe: this is the rhythm of social media. We look, watch and trawl; we try to find a sense of self in the online world; and when something strikes a chord, we smudge our fingers onto our phones to show our appreciation. If wellness influencers are to be believed, we should feel seen by this now-everyday process. We should feel better, too. We're meant to glean helpful tips about how to live our best lives, aspire to be like the immaculately styled folks dispensing the advice and be struck by how relatable it all is. "You saved my life!", we're supposed to comment, and we're meant to be genuine about it. The one catch, and one that we shouldn't think about, though: when it comes to seeking validation via social media, this setup really does go both ways. As savvy new Australian horror film Sissy shows, the beaming faces spruiking easy wisdom and products alike to hundreds, thousands or maybe hundreds of thousands of followers — 200,000-plus for this flick's namesake — are also basking in the glory of all that digital attention, and getting a self-esteem boost back in the process.
Sissy starts with @SincerelyCecilia, an Instagram hit, doing what she does best. As played by Gold Coast-born Australian actor Aisha Dee of The Bold Type in an astute and knowing stroke of casting, she's a natural in front of the camera. Indeed, thanks to everything from The Saddle Club and I Hate My Teenage Daughter to Sweet/Vicious and The Nowhere Inn as well, the film's star knows what it's like to live life through screens out of character. She's been acting since she was a teenager, and she's charted the highs of her chosen profession, all in front of a lens. So, it's no wonder that Dee conveys Cecilia's comfort recording her videos with ease. The actor hops into the spotlight not only once but twice here, but she's just as perceptive at showing how the world crumbles, shakes and shrinks whenever there's no ring light glowing, smile stretched a mile wide and Pinterest-board background framing her guru-like guidance.
"I am loved. I am special. I am enough," is Cecilia's kind of mantra. Through her carefully poised and curated videos, such words have sparked a soaring follower count, a non-stop flow of likes and adoring comments. But she's so tied to all that virtual worship that her off-camera existence — when she's not plugging an 'Elon mask', for instance — is perhaps even more mundane than everyone else's. It's also isolated, so when she reconnects with her childhood best friend Emma (co-director/co-writer Hannah Barlow) during a chance run-in at a pharmacy, it's a rare IRL link to the tangible world. Cecilia is awkward about it, though, including when Emma invites her to her out-of-town bachelorette party that very weekend. Buoyed by memories of pledging to be BFFs forever, singing Aussie pop track 'Sister' by Sister2Sister and obsessing over movie stars, she still agrees to go.
Sissy's first act is a Rorschach test: if you're already cynical about the wellness industry and social media, unsurprisingly so, then you'll know that nothing dreamy is bound to follow; if you're not, perhaps the blood and guts to come will feel like a twist. Either way, there will be blood thanks to Barlow and fellow co-helmer/co-scribe Kane Senes' game efforts, reteaming for their second feature after 2017's For Now. There will be chaos as well, and bad signs aplenty, and a rousing body count. Hitting a kangaroo en route to their remote destination clearly doesn't bode well, and also kicks off casualty tally. Then the old schoolyard dynamics bubble up, especially when Cecilia's playground tormentor Alex (Emily De Margheriti, Ladies in Black) is among the fellow guests. Pre-teen taunts resurface — "Sissy's a sissy" was the juvenile and obvious jeer spat her way back in the day, and repeated now — and the @SincerelyCecilia facade starts to shatter.
If Mean Girls was a slasher film set in an off-the-beaten-track home in Australia, it might look something like Sissy, which is a compliment multiple times over. Every horror movie wants to be smart and savage on an array of levels, but Barlow and Senes manage it again and again, and with grisly fun. Their latest feature weaponises everything from influencer culture and pastel, rainbow and glitter colour palettes to toxic friendships and troubling childhood dynamics, all while spinning a clever, cutting and comedic take on the impact of bullying. Their targets are blatant — well, if you only see terrible things in the picture's version of inkblots, as per above, they are — but that doesn't dull or dampen any point that Sissy makes. That it premiered at SXSW 2022 at the same time as Bodies Bodies Bodies feels oh-so-fitting; they both involve remote houses plagued with twentysomething mess, mayhem and mania, share many of the same points, are delightfully entertaining to watch and would be a stellar double.
Would Sissy work quite so well with someone other than Dee playing its eponymous figure, though? Thankfully, that's a question we'll never know the answer to. Her portrayal is as shrewd, amusing and engaging as the movie she's in, and as wonderfully layered — which couldn't be more pivotal in a flick that's also about the vast chasm between our Insta selves and our off-social reality, and how any group of people is mere hours from tearing each other to pieces verbally, emotionally and physically in the right/wrong circumstances. She's in fine company, however, including Barlow's on-screen efforts and De Margheriti relishing her antagonistic part. As Emma's fiancée Fran and friends Tracey and Jamie, Lucy Barrett (Halifax: Retribution), Yerin Ha (Halo) and Daniel Monks (Pulse) each also steal more than a few standout moments.
One helluva lead performance, as gloriously diverse a cast as Australian cinema has boasted, grim fates awaiting half the coat of arms, schlock and viscera galore, scathing social commentary: that's Sissy. A knowing-but-never-too-winking vibe, neon hues paired with unsettling images, canny framing, needling sound design: that's Sissy, too. If Carrie was set in today's always-online world, amid cancel culture and plentiful praise at the press of a button, it'd look like this as well. That said, this new instant Aussie horror classic takes its own bold stab at plenty of things, and genres — plus tropes and people — and always remains its own film. Cecilia and her followers could learn from it, because appreciating your faves, incorporating them into your existence but never losing yourself in them is a lesson far removed from their Insta-curated world.
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