[SXSW Interview] Hannah Barlow, Kane Senes & Aisha Dee for SISSY

[SXSW Interview] Hannah Barlow, Kane Senes & Aisha Dee for SISSY
Courtesy SXSW
In SISSY, we follow Cecilia (Aisha Dee) and Emma (Hannah Barlow), who had been tween-age BFFs who were never going to let anything come between them — until Alex (Emily De Margheriti) arrived on the scene. Twelve years later, Cecilia is a successful social media influencer living the dream of an independent, modern millennial woman, until she runs into Emma for the first time in over a decade. After reconnecting, Emmy invites Cecilia on her bachelorette weekend at a remote cabin in the mountains, where Alex proceeds to make Cecilia’s weekend a living hell.

After SISSY ‘s World Premiere at SXSW Film Festival, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Sarah Musnicky spoke with writers-directors Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes, and actor Aisha Dee, where they discussed everything from the influences that inspired SISSY, how the film changed and evolved throughout the course of production, and Aisha’s approach to bringing Cecilia to life.

To start things off, Hannah and Kane, what inspired the story behind SISSY? Because there’s so much to take from this.

Kane Senes: Yeah, there’s a few things.

Hannah Barlow: There is a lot going on.  So, on a personal level, childhood bullying, trying to attend to that inner child who is still carrying pain and still needs rescuing and comfort, and also just the rise of social media and mental health issues. Our generation, the millennials, and Gen Zeds are the most depressed generations in the history of humanity, and that effect of social media and also the sort of comedic inherent minability of it. Loving Y2K coming-of-age movies, and then equally 70s slashers and the Giallo genre…Do you want to jump in?

Kane Senes: Oh, yeah. I guess on the filmmaking side of it, just kind of loving genre films from the 70s and 80s, but that kind of odd mash-up of something like a Friday the 13th with bridesmaids or Muriel’s Wedding.

Hannah Barlow: Or Crossroads.

Kane Senes: Yeah, Crossroads. [laughs] Just kind of wanting to make something that had a weird mash-up of tones in that way that I guess was equal parts horror slasher, but then equal parts coming-of-age comedy/dramedy, which I think we’ve always made quite well in Australia.

Hannah Barlow: Muriel’s Wedding was huge for us. We believe it’s the most depressing film out there. Because it is. It’s pitched as a comedy, but it’s super dark.

Kane Senes: Yeah, it’s pretty sad.

Hannah Barlow: And we were trying to make something that would kind of speak to that as well.

Like that mishmash of dark comedy but then, once you start to dissect it, you realize that it’s pretty screwed up.

Kane Senes: Also, I think that the violence [featured] in the film is just a metaphor for how dark social media can be and what it can do to you if you use it too much and if you don’t have a healthy grounding about who you are.

Hannah Barlow: And the fact that we know this. We know the statistics and we know that it’s bad for us, but we’re still choosing to engage with it. It’s quite scary. It’s brainwashing.

Aisha, how did you become involved with the film?

Aisha Dee: Ah, well, initially, I had received the scripts through my reps, and Hannah and Kane had sent through an offer for the role of Fran, and I read the script and fell in love with it, because it was a fucking great script. I called my manager after and I kind of said, I really adore the script, but I don’t feel super connected to Fran, and it’s kind of presumptuous to say I feel really connected to Sissy, and I just really wanted him to pass along the message. I wasn’t expecting anything to come of it. And they ended up wanting to meet and we talked for I think an hour and a half or something, and then they ended up letting me be in their movie.

Kane Senes: It was pretty hard to kind of ignore once we spoke to Aisha, we just could see how much you connected to that character. And it was like, I remember we hung up the call, we were like, well, basically we found our Sissy. Yeah, it was pretty…I think it was a symbiosis, for sure.

Hannah Barlow: And Aisha had such ownership of the role and just understood the character in a way that we didn’t and when that happens, you have to lean into that because this person is going to elevate your material, and she fully did.

Aisha Dee: So everything just kind of fell into place. To be honest, it came at the perfect time. I had a free month to do the movie.

Kane Senes: It was a chance to come back to Australia.

Aisha Dee: Yes, it got me back home.

Cecilia has a rich arc to her story. How did you, Aisha, approach exploring that? Because there’s so many different layers and nuances to your performance.

Aisha Dee: We had talked about this a lot initially. Actually, all throughout, and I think I never saw it as Sissy unraveling to me. Cecilia, sorry. I always saw it as a story about Cecilia stepping into her power. Like, finding herself and finding her competence and finding her voice, because even though it’s happening in a very violent way, I think in her own mind, she is standing up for herself for the first time. So really, to me, I always just saw it as a story of someone coming into their power, stepping into their power in a kind of fucked up way

Kane Senes: Like her agency.

Aisha Dee: Yeah. So that was always where my mind was. I try not to when it comes to work, and especially working a schedule like this, I try not to overcomplicate it by talking it to death. I would rather just live it and, and have a very clear idea of where I am and where I’m going and let things just kind of reveal themselves instead of needing to know everything going into it. So a lot of the things that happened, we’re kind of happy accidents, to be honest.

Kane Senes: Well, I think you felt the character. It wasn’t necessarily like an accident. It’s almost like too humble a way of saying it. But I think that…

Aisha Dee: You just allow things to just happen.

Hannah Barlow: Aisha is intuitively a very strong actor, so we just kind of let her rip, and that’s what we see on screen. Because really, we only had enough time for one or two takes.

Kane Senes: There wasn’t a lot of direction. It might have been like, Hey, can you come in a little faster from the left? Or can you sit low or something? But it wasn’t a lot of what the motivation is because I think Aisha just kind of knew from reading, from when we first spoke, and I think when you showed up, you were like, You were [crosstalk].

Aisha Dee: Well, the script was so strong, and the script kind of told me everything that I needed to know because it was written with so much specificity. I felt like I knew exactly what was required of me. But even when I didn’t, you’re not giving yourself enough credit. I’m so grateful for Hannah and Kane and the work that they did. And I also know that the story was one thing in its script form, and then another thing while we were shooting it, it kind of took a different life. And then I think in post also, it really feels like the film is a caterpillar kind of turning into a butterfly. That’s kind of a shitty metaphor.

Kane Senes: But there always is the film that you write, shoot, and edit.

Hannah Barlow: I wanted to jump on what Aisha just said, because in post it did become another film, and shout out to our brilliant editor, Margi Hoy. She kind of coined this term in the first week of edit – ‘Disney Psycho Pop’. It was like glittery, sparkly elements throughout the film that she really encouraged us to just lean into. Like, there’s a paper moon and there’s the glittering house. We just kind of turned up the dial on the wackiness.

Kane Senes: Yeah, I remember we came in one day and she had kind of been messing around with that stuff, and she was just like, “What do you think of this?” And she showed us the exterior of the house with some kind of cheap kind of glitter thing that she’d stuck over the top just, and we were just like, “What do you… Did you have any sleep last night? Like what are you doing?” But then, the more we sat with it, the more we realized oh, we’re in Cecilia’s head. As things get crazier and crazier, she’s trying to hold on to her childhood because that was like a safe time, you know? So yeah, that tone totally was something that we kind of found in the edit so definitely has evolved through those processes.

SISSY had its world premiere on Friday, March 11, 2022, at SXSW Film Festival. SISSY has been acquired by Shudder, so stay tuned to see when it’ll get released here in the States. To learn more about the film, check out our review!

This interview was edited for clarity and length.

Sarah Musnicky
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