Movie Review: SISSY: Mixing social media and social anxiety in murky Australian horror [SXSW 2022]

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Sissy review

sissy (2022) film criticism from 29th Annual South By Southwest Film Festivala film written and directed by Hannah Barlow and Kane Senesfeaturing Aisha Dee, Yerin Ha, Lucy BarretteHanna Barlow, Victoria Hopkins, Alea O’Shea, Emilie De Margheriti, Darcie Irwin Simpson, Daniel Monks, Ryan Paniza, Jared Jekylland Michael Slater.

We frequently praise stories for relying on “shades of gray” in the moral alignments of their characters and narratives, but sissy makes the case more difficult as these shades are almost indistinguishable from each other. They bleed together in a murky stew of revenge, regret, justice and horror that is deeply unsettling but also deviously intriguing to peruse.

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Cecilia (Aisha Dee), a woman in her late twenties, is a social media influencer who preaches mental health awareness and calming meditation rituals to her 200,000 followers. She leads a lonely, crowded life on the outskirts of Australia’s capital, but her companionship and validation comes through interacting with her followers. The pings of likes and DMs from his phone ease his anxiety and boost his serotonin levels, allowing him to go through the day in one stable piece.

During an errand in a pharmacy, she crosses paths with Emma (Hannah Barlow), her childhood best friend whom she has not seen for almost 15 years. Overwhelmed with joy and wanting to reconnect, Hannah invites Cecilia (whom she called “Sissy”) to her bachelorette weekend with her fiancée Fran (Lucy Barrett) and her other fashionable, TV-obsessed friends. reality. Nervous about rekindling an old friendship that ended in controversy, Cecilia shyly agrees to come, but is soon taken aback when she learns the party is being hosted by Alex (Emily De Margheriti ) – the center of the controversy.

Over the next few days, Cecilia’s anxiety spirals out of control, with unresolved tensions between her and Alex triggering unforgivable past traumas that she has since tried to escape. It’s a story of social awkwardness as unnerving horror – that is, until it manifests itself in violent and ridiculously tangible ways.

At first, the film may seem obscure, as it’s tempting to view this satire of self-help gurus, social media-based mental health pop psychology, and modern anxiety mediation as pure denunciation. and simple of such things – or even worse, a stigmatization of things such as the roots of societal ills (his “#triggered” slogan and the co-opted implications that phrase has carried over the past few years certainly don’t do much services to the film’s marketing campaign). But that one takeaway would ignore the positive effects and goodwill such things generated for Cecilia (not to mention real, real people too) and how, up until the events of the film, she was able to forge an identity that of which she is finally proud, that she has full control and that she can admire with all her heart.

sissythe subjects of anxiety and moderation of her well-being are presented not so much as causes of Cecilia’s eventual actions, but rather as catalysts for the narrative’s wild turns: moments of contention with external parties that lead to wild endings in keeping with the veracity of the demands of the genre. What Barlow and her co-writer/director Kane Senes draw on is the uncomfortable truth that many aspects of life are paradoxical and contradictory: people (like Cecilia and her friends) and things (like her social media presence). and self-care) are simultaneously both “good” and “evil” forces, subject to manipulation, with moral and ethical boundaries that are not always clear. Not only do Barlow and Senes know this, but they play it brazenly, presenting themselves as offensive before turning into greater thematic complexity and even empathy (Paul Verhoeven would be proud).

This ethical translucency is reflected in the film’s technical craftsmanship, with the effects and music playing out in a haunting mood. In particular, Kenneth Lampl’s original score comes across as authoritative at first, but it begins to make sense as a kind of personification of Cecilia’s own dissociation from her surroundings to help quell or lessen her anxiety. It’s accented kitsch mixed with camp horror, making for a silly, scary, and slightly weird game.

Admittedly, the film’s second half doesn’t quite match the horror of the heightened social anxiety of the first, and some of the violence, while all bold, feels excessive and (depending on the characters involved) unnecessarily cruel. . It also doesn’t help that, while the prosthetics are pretty good in the previously stated campy sense, the CGI moments are garish and sorely lacking.

Always, sissy is so subtly shocking in its satire and frightening that it can’t help but tickle your sick imagination. Critical but not offensive, silly but not soulless, Barlow and Senes’ new film is sure to piss off a lot of people or find those defending it for the wrong reasons. But for anyone who sees it for what it is – that is, the messy musings on miasma of the modern age – please keep liking, commenting and subscribing.

Rating: 7/ten

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