Saturday, April 22, 2023

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Film: Sissy
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on basement television.

I have said before on a number of occasions that for me to really connect with a movie, I need to have a character with whom I can have some sort of connection. That’s not always the case in the sense that there are going to be a few exceptions here and there, but if I find the entire cast of characters to be non-sympathetic, the film is a really hard sell for me in general. That’s definitely the case with Sissy, an Australian Gen-Z horror/slasher. The idea here is fantastic, but I genuinely dislike all of the characters, which made it a tough watch.

We’re going to meet Cecilia (Aisha Dee), who makes a good enough living as a social media influencer/woo peddler. Cecilia, we learn, does meditation, positivity, and life affirmation on one social media platform or another (YouTube or Instagram, probably), and has amassed a solid collection of 200,000 followers. She seems to affirm her own value by the constant stream of positive replies from her viewers and followers.

One fine day, Cecilia runs into Emma (co-author and co-director Hannah Barlow), her best friend from her youth. We see some of young Cecilia and Emma (Amelia Lule and Camille Cumpston) and their pledges of undying friendship and we get the sense that the friendship has clearly died. We discover that Emma is about to get married and, spur of the moment, invites Cecilia to her bachelorette weekend. Unknown to Cecilia at the time is that Emma’s maid of honor is Alex (April Blasdall in flashback, Emily De Margheriti in the present), who essentially stole Emma as a friend from Cecilia, and whom Cecilia sees as her childhood bully.

What we learn when everyone arrives at the weekend is that Alex and Cecilia have very different memories of the past. Cecilia clearly remembers being hounded and humiliated by Alex, and Alex has a large facial scar with which to remember Cecilia, who was called Sissy at the time. It’s not long before Alex is turning everyone at the party against Cecilia. But we’re also going to get a sense that while Cecilia is not wholly innocent, there may be some truth to her side of the story. In a moment where the two are alone, we learn that Alex has stolen Cecilia’s phone and is planning on sabotaging her channel.

Things devolve from there, as Cecilia acts to protect herself and her channel with disastrous and predictable results. And, of course, once she’s done something terrible to Alex (again), she has to act to protect herself when anyone else finds out, and so the weekend becomes a series of episodes of Cecilia “protecting” herself as violently as possible and then reassuring herself that she is actually a good person, as evidenced by her followers and continual stream of positive affirmation.

As an idea for a film, I love Sissy, because it hits a lot of classic themes—bullying, rejection, friends growing apart—but does so in a very modern way. Hanging this on the idea of social media and influence, and on our constant need for validation and acceptance from others, even strangers on the internet, feels very real and very topical. There are a lot of people who seem to judge their own lives and success by the number of people who have seen what they have written, or the number of comments that they receive. I think that’s almost universal—it feels good to post something and get even a couple of hundred likes, and Sissy plays into that feeling and that reality.

At the same time, I genuinely dislike all of the characters in this film. We’re initially meant to be sympathetic toward Cecilia, and that is with whom our sympathies will naturally lie as the film begins. As it goes on, though, and we learn just what she was like as a child and still very much is like as a desperately needy adult, it’s much harder to give her that sympathy. Problematically, there really isn’t anyone else worth liking in the film. Emma, attempting to get beyond the past, doesn’t stop everyone else from attacking Cecilia or making fun of her. Emma’s friends Jamie (Daniel Monks) and Tracey (Yerin Ha) are openly scornful of what Cecilia does and who she is. Fran (Lucy Barrett), who is Emma’s fiancée, is almost a complete non-entity in the film.

What this means is that I really wanted to like Sissy and found a lot here that was interesting, but because of how much I disliked all of the characters in it, I find it hard to recommend in anything other than the most qualified way. In essence, everyone here is kind of a bully, and most of them end with a fate that, while they might not deserve it, feels kind of justified.

Why to watch Sissy: It’s a great concept for a modern slasher.
Why not to watch: Every character in this is awful.


  1. This looks interesting though I don't mind seeing films with characters that are unlikeable as long as they're complex and interesting people. If not, then fuck it.

    1. This feels far more like social commentary than anything else. There's a lot here to like, and it makes sense that all of the characters are kind of terrible, but it's hard for me to latch onto someone to really care about.