Aisha Dee slays in Australian horror comedy “Sissy.” [SXSW Film Festival]

We’ve all had our experiences with bullies. Some more than others, certainly, but looking back on the pitfalls of adolescence in the light of adulthood, there’s always that nagging voice in the back of your head telling you “If you knew what you knew today, you could’ve just punched the shit out of them and it could’ve ended there.” But there’s another train of thought that asks if you even care anymore to even address it, if given the unlikely chance. Would those dynamics still remain? Have we all grown as people to move past what we’ve done in the past? What are we even doing here to justify these questions? These are questions that Hannah Barlow & Kane Senes’s Sissy seek to answer with rose-colored, pastel-tinted, ultra-stylish glasses. Answers that, while not particularly insightful, provide a good deal of gory fun when things begin to go horribly wrong.

Sissy 1

Aisha Dee as Cecilia in Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes’ SISSY. Photo Credit: Steve Arnold ACS.

Cecilia (Aisha Dee) is a moderately successful, albeit socially isolated, wellness influencer in Canberra, who runs into her childhood best friend, Emma (Hannah Barlow), at a pharmacy when she is in town. Emma, excited to see Cecilia after over a decade, invites Cecilia out to her pre-wedding bachelorette festivities. While initially having fun, when invited to a weekend retreat to a beautiful vacation home away from civilization, Cecilia realizes the trip was organized by Emma’s other friend, and Cecilia’s childhood bully, Alex (Emily De Margheriti). Alex, unaware of Cecilia’s attendance, reacts with cold candor, and the tension of the weekend begins to escalate as Cecilia begins to feel increasingly more isolated from the safe spaces she worked so hard to create for herself. Further conflict soon elevates the weekend into a longing for revenge, and Cecilia sets out to prove she is no longer the meek child accepting abuse.

Sissy is a rather interesting beast of a film as it starts with a lighthearted, almost frilly tone that almost immediately goes downhill for everyone involved the second Cecilia leaves her comfort zone. You very soon begin to root for Cecilia to exact her revenge not only on Alex, but on every one of the self-righteous mean kid hipsters in this house who never managed to ever grow up past peaking in high school. We as audience members develop a bloodlust for the over-the-top personalities to meet brutal ends, but as Sissy begins to properly unfold, the audience, much like Cecilia herself, begins to realize that revenge is not as gruesomely sweet as it feels in concept. It’s a darker, bleaker affair that we become horrified with, and Cecilia becomes thrilled by. This is where the film splits, everyone becomes pretty loathable, and the bloodbath truly begins.

Sissy is an insanely stylish film, one that, in its first act, gave me glimpses of a vision similar to how Tim Burton shoots suburban locales. It’s dreamlike (not necessarily a good dream, but dreamlike nonetheless), uncanny, and rather off-putting, but it’s a world that you can’t really look away from due to its fascinating artificiality. No one is who they say they are, and they chronically live online through online personas drastically different than who they really are. From the jump, Cecilia is wary of Emily’s intentions (for what turns out to be good reason as backstory progresses), but there’s a thrilling sense of inclusion that comes with Cecilia having real life “friends” for once. It absolutely fits the bill for a film ingraining itself in influencer culture, that indulges the ugly with the objectively bright and pretty. I’m not sure the film is as scathing of an indictment on said culture as much as it thinks it is, but I’ve yet to find any film that accurately captures the essence of a rapidly changing culture in the time it takes to write, produce, and release a film. That’s not necessarily Sissy’s fault.

Aisha Dee rules Sissy with an iron fist, as well as a large rock, and a knife, and a van, and a lot of other things used to maim and kill those who have wronged her. The beauty of her performance comes in the slow realization that, despite her gentle demeanor, likable personality, and the film’s focus on her from the start, that she is indeed the villain at the center of this story. It really speaks to the subtle, but incredibly whimsical way that Dee takes on this character. She might not be an asshole, or a bully, or insensitive to people’s feelings, but at the end of the day, she is the one calling the shots with her weapons of choice, and it creates a very exciting experience for the viewer.

Sissy does somewhat begin to run out of steam come its third act, however. When we’re left with only a few people standing, the standoff brings the film’s gruesome middle-section to a pretty abrupt halt. It throws off the balance of a pretty impeccably paced comedic slasher, a pace that does pick itself back up with a venerable slay (I mean that in both a literal and homosexual sense) of a finale that made me feel rather guilty from hooting and hollering at, but unfortunately I can’t change the fact that I, indeed, am a horrible person. Sissy understands that and embraces me for it.


Co-writer and co-director Hannah Barlow.

Sissy isn’t a perfect horror-comedy, but it’s so fun and gorgeous to look at that it almost doesn’t matter that it doesn’t always stick the landing of the big jumps it makes. It’s an interesting experiment in how bleak Australian horror can also be mixed so organically with the crass humor Australia is also known for producing. This is helped wonderfully from Dee’s devilishly charming performance at the center of the film, and creates a uniquely lovable/loathable horror villain. This is brutal, bleak messaging that is punctuated by a quick little “lmfao ;)” that reminds us to not take anything here too seriously.

Screening during the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.

SXSW Screening Information:

*Friday, March 11th, Screening @ 10 pm CT, Alamo Lamar D

*Saturday, March 12th, Online Screening @ 9:00 am CT

*Sunday, March 13th, Screening @ 1145a CT, Alamo Lamar A

*Wednesday, March 16th, Screening @ 4:00 pm CT, Alamo Lamar D

For more information, head to the official SXSW webpage or Arcadia’s official Sissy webpage.

Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.

Categories: In Theaters, Reviews, streaming

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