Fantasia Film Review: Sissy

Year: 2022
Runtime:  102 minutes
Director: Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes
Writer: Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes
Cast: Aisha Dee, Hannah Barlow, Emily De Margheriti, Daniel Monks, Yerin Ha, Lucy Barrett, Shaun Martindale, Kane Senes

By Harris Dang

“Sissy” (2022) tells the story of Cecilia (Aisha Dee), a wellness guru who has a strong following on social media, as she promotes positive contentment and harmonious leanings. However, underneath the composed exterior lies a troubled soul that has left her deeply traumatized, as she is a victim. She often gets nightmares of her past as she sees violent images but as with these types of stories, there’s two sides to every story.

Serendipitously, she bumps into her then-school BFF Emma (Hannah Barlow, serving as actor, writer, co-director and other roles), who invites her to her hen’s party out in a cabin in the bush. But things take a disastrous turn when Cecilia realizes that her school bully Alex (Emily De Margheriti) also happens to be at the party. Will Cecilia remain calm and content through the party or will all hell break loose?

A new story in the realm of Australian genre cinema is always something to celebrate. We have had action classics like “Mad Max” (1979), family fantasies like “Babe” (1995) and horror nightmares like “Wolf Creek” (2005). Now we have the latest genre piece, “Sissy”, a horror comedy about the obsession of social media and how it can provide both a haven and a delusion to our flawed selves.

Directors Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes have done a good job in their storytelling as they navigate the tones of gory horror, incisive satire of the underpinnings of social media and the dramatic pathos of its titular character with effortless ease. As for the latter component, the drama stemming from social anxiety and peer pressure provides psychological intrigue and the character development of Cecilia is founded by a backstory that many will relate to. However, her questionable decisions and flawed mindset is what makes the character fascinating. A huge credit goes to Aisha Dee, who portrays Cecilia with striking honesty and trying to avoid going into any sense of guile as much as possible.

For the horror comedy component, Barlow and Senes deliver on the functions of blood, gore and gallows humour but the film never really reaches heights in terms of scares. Inane jokes are elements of foreshadowing that provide morbidly funny punchlines (including a roadkill joke that feels uniquely Australian) and the nature of the deaths veer from outrageously complex (almost like a Rube Goldberg-esque sequence) to shockingly blunt (crutches should never be used in that way) in their intent.

The film stumbles however in the satire component as it chooses many easy targets, like the lack of emotional follow-through with its use of emojis and hashtags as well as subverting character stereotypes, in which the supporting cast try their very best to enliven the material. Barlow and Senes do delve deeper in the issues at hand like showing the serotonin one gets when likes and shares are received, or when the intentions of using social media as a betterment of mankind can be seen as an excuse of self-fulfilment, and they do inform of the character arcs in the story. However, the satire does not hit as hard as it should, especially in comparison to the horror.

Overall, “Sissy” is an enjoyable crowd-pleaser that mixes social satire with gallows humour and grisly horror with entertaining results. Aisha Dee is a compelling lead and the stakes escalate well for the horror to truly make an impact. Just wished the satire was as sharp as the horror.

“Sissy” will be showing at the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival. Click the picture below to explore the festival program.

Fantasia 2022 Curtain Raiser: The Festival's Most Anticipated – Film Daze

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