For all its trope-filled, cliché-ridden entries into the genre, horror seldom gets the credit it deserves for being more hip with the times than one would assume. For every bad idea (and there’s a lot of them), there’s a good one that allows the culture of the time to tell their stories. It is often inclusive instead of mocking, even when it chooses to be satirical. “Sissy” is another example of using current technology and culture to elevate a slasher framework, blending dark comedy with shocking violence sure to satisfy fans of both. It is yet another entry into the long list of elevated horror of 2022, and playfully transitions from what you think it is to something else entirely.
“Sissy” does this without ever changing its tone, either. It leads you down one path only to subvert your expectations about halfway through, and the ride cleverly transforms into one you didn’t see coming but can’t wait to see where it goes.
Written and directed by Hanna Bartlow and Bane Senes, “Sissy” tells the story of Cecilia and Emma, two childhood friends who reunite after a decade apart. Cecilia is a prominent social media influencer, focused on self healing and safe spaces. Emma is about to get married, and invites Cecilia to spend the weekend with her and her friends in a remote cabin for her bachelorette party. Reluctantly, Cecilia agrees, only to discover that one of the guest is her old childhood bully Michelle. They had an incident that resulted in violence and gave Cecilia the nickname Sissy. As the uneasy alliance begins to crumble, and the distance between Cecilia and Emma grows, things just may spill over into violent that acts that can’t be stopped, and everyone will need a safe space.
“Sissy” expertly explores the perils of influencer culture, and the self propaganda we tell ourselves about our online personas and our substitution of followers for real human connections. The themes of falsely claiming you’re a good person while simultaneously spewing venom at others runs deep in “Sissy,” and Bartlow and Senes have no desire to be even the least bit subtle about it. They want you very quickly recognize that there IS not substitution for real human interactions, regardless of how much we want social media to fill that void. This desire can even go as far as to skew actual events and memories, reshaping our worldview to tell ourselves false versions of real experiences.
“Sissy” goes full speed ahead with these ideas to a fault sometimes, only scratching the service of some of them by trying to include all of them at once. But for that fault, the film is also smarter than the narrative would appear, and as blunt as their cultural commentary is, what it has to say is genuine and purposeful even if it’s only on the surface of most things. Sometimes you don’t always have to be subtle to be clever or effective, and “Sissy” strikes just the right balance to get most everything right. This allows the turn of events and escalating violence to not only be delightfully unhinged and over the top, but a unique, subversive slasher flick. How “Sissy” begins is not how it ends, and all of things contribute to the film being wildly entertaining.
Truth be told though, “Sissy” simply doesn’t work without the incredibly endearing and empathetic performance of Aisha Dee. She is the lynchpin that holds all of these elements together, nailing every aspect of the influencer culture the film is critiquing with genuine intent and understanding. Dee is good enough to root for even when you know you shouldn’t, and elevates the numerous conversations about social media and human connections to be far more meaningful than the lack of subtly would often allow in less capable hands. There are, of course, plenty of other characters the inhabit the remote cabin, but Dee’s Cecilia is the only one that is ever truly fleshed out to feel real and complete. Anyone embarking on a subversive slasher journey will quickly tell who’s simply there to be expendable, and “Sissy” knows well enough to let you be right about them by not giving them much else to do aside from existing. And dying.
“Sissy” isn’t particularly as deep as it wants to be, despite really trying to have meaningful conversations about a lot of things. They worked for me, but I can see how the lack of subtly may be too much to overcome, especially since “Sissy” takes its time to really get going. Much of what occurs is surface level, and before we can really dive in, the film quickly trades its concepts for violence and revenge. Though a deterrent for some, by the time the bodies start piling up, “Sissy” is having so much damn fun it doesn’t really matter. It’s a trade off worth making, and powered by a stellar performance from Dee and some clever bait and switches that feel like worthy payoffs in the end. Even if you find the heavy handed concepts of trauma, bullying, mental health, and social media attention craving to be a little too much, “Sissy” becomes so much fun and bloody you probably won’t stay hung up on it all for too long. Again, Dee is exceptional here, driving all of these points home with some good old fashioned revenge and the constant mantra of, “I’m a good person,” despite many of her actions saying otherwise.
All in all, “Sissy” is a really fun, subversive slasher that is packed with dark comedy, brutal kills, and some clever commentary on influencer culture. Powered by a terrific performance from its lead, “Sissy” fits great into your spooky season horror watchlist this year.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
“Sissy” is now streaming on Shudder. You can watch the trailer below.