MIFF 2022: Sissy Review
“I am loved. I am special. I am enough. I am doing my best.”
Cecilia (sometimes known as the much hated nickname Sissy) is an influencer: a self-help guru preaching meditation and holistic medicine whilst hawking ‘Elon Mask’ beauty products and raking in the likes and subscribers. Things seem to be going well, that is until she runs into her best friend from back when they were teens, Emma, who she hadn’t seen in a decade. Somehow getting strung along to going to her bachelorotte weekend, what follows is a disaster of a trip that gets bloodier and more revealing as it goes on.
Directed and written by Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes, and set in a rather beautiful isolated area of Australia, Sissy gets the mood exactly right. Through liberal usage of extreme closeups, the intensely awkward and ultimately rather traumatic series of events – all the way from awkward drunken party into a string of almost happenstance murders – is put front and center. It’s a hilarious ride, with colourful characters and performances led by the incredible lightning-rod of Aisha Dee in the lead role. But through the gallows humour and the awkward and ridiculous happenings there’s a tale that provides a fairly complex set of views on the dangers of bullying and the trappings of social media.
The modern social media landscape has a hand in shaping both the narrative and the visual styling of the film, with some sleek integrations of filters, overlays, and a plethora of terminally-online jargon into scenes. It’s super stylish, and feels incredibly appropriate. Sissy opens with one of her videos discussing healing techniques and bespoke non-allergenic ropes whilst dropping in terms from ‘triggering’ to ‘safe space,’ leaning in to the overuse of the terms before actually exploring these often memed concepts.
Social media warps the way we see and interact with the world, and in turn it warps the way we are seen and interacted with. Cecilia is an influencer, she’s got a large following and makes a living through this online world, and that persona is a safe space for her that she tries to return to after things start to collapse. Her own demons haunt her, but this persona pushes in the opposite direction, rejecting the instability caused by pretty brutal loneliness and incessant bullying in her younger years.
Most of Emma’s friend group is appropriately vapid, getting sucked in to trashy reality TV and being entirely oblivious to how uncomfortable Cecilia is being made to feel. Not only is she out of her element, but the bachelorette party is at the house of the girl who seemed to be the catalyst for whatever devastating event lay in Cecilia’s past; Alex (portrayed with the perfect mix of haughty and bitchy by Emily De Margheriti), her childhood bully.
Sissy is smart, and it’s a roaring good time, neither side sacrifices anything for the other. The messages become a bit messy, but that works perfectly for the narrative. It’s a crowd-pleaser that’s just a damn good time all round. Seeing this one in theater with a festival audience was a big bonus to the already great atmosphere the film itself sets up, from all the awkward hilarity through to the vicious but darkly amusing kills; the pop during the quite literal pop scene was an amazing live experience.
As the story is revealed, and Cecilia’s past troubles as well as the reality of her situation is brought into focus, it’s hard not to latch onto the character. From the stellar writing to the blazing performance of Aisha Dee, Sissy is full of gooey-bloody-heart. Even as the line between ‘bullied victim’ and ‘unstable slasher’ become smeared, you still have to root for her. The twists and turns in the narrative bring us from awkward comedy into full slasher territory as the night goes on. Playing off genre tropes and mixing in some callbacks and desperate social manipulation, Sissy keeps things fresh.
Sissy is a slasher with heart, a crimson-red comedy navigating through feminine identity, social media, modern online culture, and the long lasting effects of bullying. Seeing a film brimming with creativity gives me a lot of hope and pride in the Australian film scene. Definitely a great ride that keeps its brutality and its humour right on a knife’s edge.
The 70th edition of Melbourne International Film Festival will run from August 4th – 21st in cinemas, and August 11th – 28th, 2022 online.