Sissy – ★★★★ – Fantasia International Film Festival

Sissy – ★★★★ – Fantasia International Film Festival

A horror for millennials, Sissy takes the idea of social ostracism and childhood trauma and runs with it. Resulting in a compelling and unexpected bloodbath of a film, thoroughly tremendous. Writer-directors Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes along with lead Aisha Dee have knocked it out of the park.

Cecelia (Aisha Dee) is a popular influencer with legions of followers hanging on her every online word as she gives out daily self-help guidance for healthier living. Unfortunately, she wasn’t always this confident. In her childhood, Cecelia went by the name of “Sissy” and was mercilessly taunted by one particular bully to such an extent that she eventually became an outcast. Twelve years later, a chance encounter with her long-ago best friend, Emma (Hannah Barlow), sees her invited to a getaway bachelorette weekend. People from her childhood will be there, bully included. Terrible, long-suppressed emotions are about to explode her past into her present, forcing a collision between the person she once was with the identity she’s worked so hard to develop.  

Childhood can be a proper mixed bag, and the trauma caused by it can and does stay with you, no matter how hard you try to rid them (hello therapy). So when one moment hits and stays with you, how do you shake it? Can you shake it? This is where Sissy marvelously takes us, in a remarkably sharp film that refuses to hold back.

If there is ever the perfect visual showcase of an influencer who is not who they seem, it is in the opening minutes of Sissy. Our titular character promotes the perfect digital life. Someone in control of her mind and body and everything else that entails. So, when she moves through her apartment we see the real Ceceila a woman who is a far cry from who she promotes herself as. If that isn’t the perfect showcase of people drowning in a world of social media perfectionism, they what is?

This allows us to get a quick and detailed glance at the current psyche of Cecelia. She has a serious lack of control, coupled with her need for love and attention in any form. Even if it has to come from other people behind screens sending prayer emoticons. Naturally, when the chance to reconnect with the person she saw as hers comes back, she is going to take it with both hands. God helps anyone who steps in her way of keeping that person, in this case Emma from her again.

Cecelia is as broken as they come, a prime example of a person who was given trauma they could never recover from mentally. As we get through the interspersed flashbacks throughout Sissy, we see just how complex the situation is in the relationship between Cecelia, Alex and Emma. Aisha Dee comes into her own here and adds some great depth to her complicated character. However, when the façade finally gives way and the rampage begins, for the most part, all you can do is revel in the joy of the madness.

Sissy uses some tried and tested tropes, but with subtle little changes to it all. The group venture off into a cabin in the woods, but there are enough changes present that it all still feels fresh enough. Which for a horror film is all you can ask for. Practically everything at this point has been done in the genre. However as long as the film tries to bring something new, it is easy to fall in love with it.

From the outside looking in, you could be forgiven for thinking that Sissy isn’t going to be that violent or gory. Luckily for us, Barlow and Senes thought the opposite, and with the amazing work from Larry Van Duynhoven and his team. We get practical effects that will shock even the most well-trodden horror fan.

These moments are as fantastic as they are wince inducing. There is a point in some of those moments you wonder why a cut never happened earlier, as in any other film there would have been. It becomes a welcome treat for those who love their gore, that they hold and follow through so many times with what they do. Sissy takes a little while to get going, wisely building the world and our main protagonists as it goes along. Once the chaos starts though, it does not let up becoming as violent and over the top as they come.

For genre fans, there is so much to love here, and the fact that Sissy can touch upon important subjects for people in their 20s and 30s concerning their mental health is impressive; this is 2022s years Sound of Violence. An unexpected joy to behold for genre fans. Aisha Dee is a star who you need to jump on the train with pronto with filmmakers Barlow and Kane’s voices; we cannot wait to hear from her again.


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