SISSY, written and directed by Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes, premieres at SXSW Festival and follows Cecilia, aka Sissy (Aisha Dee), as she reunites with her childhood best friend Emma (Hannah Barlow). When Cecilia is invited to Emma’s bachelorette weekend at a cabin in the woods owned by Alex (Emily De Margheriti), Cecilia’s high school bully, the weekend of fun unravels. SISSY gives a striking blend of comedy and horror. The film uses stylish filter effects common on social media sites like Instagram and TikTok, amplifying the discomfort and hilarious edge that borders on hysteria as the violence ramps up.
Cecilia amassed a large following on Instagram thanks to her self-care and meditation videos. Cecilia’s life outside of Instagram is not glitzy or glamorous. Like many who make content online, there is usually a small space or room decorated to make videos for socials that often looks drastically different from the rest of the apartment. The music gives a musical quality to the story that makes SISSY unreal in a delightful way. I laughed because the music at the beginning of the film cracked me up. When the situation unfolds later, the laughter had a dash of nerves.
Cecilia is relatable, particularly if you experienced bullying. Many of us hope that we will handle the situation differently if we encounter our bullies as adults. But Cecilia also cannot say no to her friend Emma. Cecilia seems to know this because when she first runs into Emma while shopping for Bloody Brilliant tampons (I cackled at the name), Cecilia makes a beeline to the other end of the store to ring up and escape. Although they do not disclose the reason for Cecilia’s attempted flight, we sense something occurred that separated these two friends. The backstory unfolds in parts, through Cecilia’s memory and an adorable home video the pair made as children.
The acting is perfect. I loved Aisha Dee’s portrayal of Cecilia because she is shy but caring, while Emma is just as bright and more outgoing. But neither display a backbone when it comes to Alex or Emma’s other friends on this weekend trip. We see Emma’s anger build-up at how her friends Tracey (Yerin Ha), Jamie (Daniel Monks), Alex, and her fiance Fran (Lucy Barrett) mock Cecilia, but it is too late by then. Emma is that annoying, clueless friend because she knows the history between the pair and still gives no thought to what might happen when she invites Cecilia into Alex’s home without giving either of them a warning.
I enjoyed SISSY a lot because the film gives an authentic example of how bullies often continue that behavior long into adulthood. If a bully goes unchecked through their childhood, this is the result. Alex does have a reason to be upset too, but the situation did not occur randomly, and she continues the same behavior and does not anticipate the same results. The depiction of Cecilia also demonstrates how we never know an influencer or what experiences helped shape them or what demons haunt the recesses of their minds. What we see is one aspect of the individual. The cast is diverse and does not feel like a diversity checkmark.
So far, SISSY is my favorite film from SXSW, and I recommend it because of the story, pacing, music, and acting. The film captured the discomfort of old friends and foes reconnecting to a tee.
SISSY had its world premiere on Friday, March 11, 2022, at SXSW Film Festival.