‘Sissy’ Takes Self Help To New Lows – Black Girl Nerds
If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. It was a parenting trope that I’m sure most are familiar with, but sissy proves it’s more than an old wives’ tale. Starring Aisha Dee and co-written and co-directed by Kane Senes and Hannah Barlow, sissy is a horror movie that will have you questioning your alliances with perfectly flawed characters.
Dee plays Sissy (“It’s Cecilia now”), an Instagram wellness influencer who has over 200,000 followers. @SincerelyCecilia displays wellness habits like rope, meditation, mantras and breathing exercises. However, she seems to take care of herself via the comments and love she receives from her adoring fans.
One day, she meets her childhood best friend, Emma (Hannah Barlow), who invites her to her bachelorette party and hen weekend. What Emma fails to tell Cecilia is that the hen weekend will be hosted by Emma’s new best friend/Cecilia’s nemesis, Alex (Emily de Margheriti). In response to the bullying, Cecilia mutilated Alex when they were children. Alex never forgot or forgave. Emma thinks this is the perfect opportunity for the two to finally bury the hatchet (and hopefully not in each other’s faces…again). The group is filled with people who have inhabited Emma’s life since Cecilia was taken out of it.
There’s Jamie, the fabulously disabled queer man who turns out to be “Team Alex” from the first moment. And Yerin Ha’s Tracey is more interested in the Big Brother-style reality show meets Love Island than any of the group’s drama. Finally, we have Emma’s near-fiancée Fran (Lucy Barrett) who’s heard all about Cecilia over the two days it’s been since the two women reconnected.
I mention that Jamie picks sides because it’s something the movie demands of you almost immediately. Was Cecilia justified in the act of aggression she committed against Alex? Was she “just” a kid? Or is violence never justified? Interestingly, the wounds are carried throughout the film. Alexandra is taken completely off guard when Cecilia arrives and isn’t too happy but tries (poorly) to keep the peace for Emma.
The scene is conducive to shenanigans. The group is in a private vacation home in the middle of nature. They ignore Cecilia one moment, then overwhelm her with criticism the next. Throughout, you’ll find yourself justifying Cecilia’s actions or wondering if they deserve what they’re getting. As Cecilia begins to unravel, unravels the viewer’s defense of her, unravels the notions that perhaps these were just unfortunate accidents and not acts of violent revenge? Maybe she deserves it when the tables turn against her.
sissy has a lot of things that work. The young actors who played the children’s versions of Emma and Sissy (Camille Cumpston and Amelia Luke, respectively) do a fantastic job of adding context to the tension between Emma and Cecilia. When Cecelia sees Emma, she tries to run away but Emma catches up to her at the checkout and demands that Cecelia be reintroduced into her life.
A lot of flack is given to influencers, especially those who profit financially from their followers. There are stories of people who gave up long-standing careers just to have their passions crowdfunded. @SincerelyCecilia is exactly that. She is sincere in her intentions to help even though she may give up on the help she receives in return. Every time she reads a positive comment, we see her pupils dilate and the hair on her arm stand on end. She truly is at her best when online, and she doesn’t mind that the exterior doesn’t always seem to match. We watch her eat a cold pizza in a dark apartment and turn on her shitty TV to relax.
Although she is sincere, she is not entirely authentic. Dee does a fantastic job of introducing Cecilia’s character, flaws and everything else. That’s what makes her so endearing and relatable when you learn of the bullying she suffered at the hands of Alex. When we open the film, we understand that Emma and Cecilia were the best friends in the world, but what is a little more abstract is why they stopped. Emma clearly chose aside and refused to acknowledge how much it could have hurt Cecilia in the long run.
Interestingly, aside from two male speaking roles, the cast is made up entirely of women, including our soon-to-be married couple. There’s something so universal about the devastation, the joy, the devotion, and the absolute tentative nature of girl-on-girl childhood relationships. The song Sister by Sister2Sister is highlighted. The connection between Emma and Cecilia, whether in school age or adulthood, carries the exact same energy. It’s electric and innate the way actors fall into this trope. They play with just the right amount of desperation and mania.
I only have one real complaint with the movie, and it has to do with the score. He is present almost throughout the film. Sweeping instrumentals help pin down scenes, even those filled with dialogue or backstory. It’s very efficient and the music supervisor went to great lengths to match the score to each scene. The problem is the volume. When it hijacks or worse, overwhelms needed dialogue, it’s underwhelming. There was a scene where every bachelor party, minus Cecilia, was about her as she hid behind a tree out of sight. I wish I could hear everything clearly.
sissy is heartbreaking, but only because so many of us have seen the edge that Cecilia spills. The horror is not only in the horrific murders we witness on screen, but also in the fact that many of us have probably had these unleashed dreams of revenge, we also had the common sense to keep in our heads.
sissy premiering Friday, March 11, 2022 at South by Southwest.