During lockdowns, it didn't take long for the perfectly made-up facades of several social media wellness influencers to slip, startlingly revealing their wild conspiracy theories and crackpot cures. It was kinda scary to realise how out of orbit some of them really were. Especially considering how many vulnerable folks turn to these wannabe gurus, who often have little-to-no qualifications, while looking for a ray of hope in troubling times.
All of which makes the premise of new Australian horror-comedy Sissy particularly intriguing. Aisha Dee of The Bold Type fame plays one such Insta influencer, Cecilia. She uses her experience of childhood bullying to promote mental wellbeing via eye-opening techniques involving ropes and learning to love hyperventilation. All of which whilst also plugging products like the humorously named "Elon Mask".
Her seemingly perfect life conceals a deep loneliness and emotional scarring tracing back to a terrible incident at primary school. This dramatically resurfaces when she runs into her former bestie Emma, played by Hannah Barlow. The latter also co-wrote and directed the film alongside Kane Senes. Falling back in with one another while bonding over old VHS tapes leads to an invite to the birthday party of Cecilia’s former bully Alex (Emily De Margheriti), hosted in a swish pad set in rural beauty just outside of Canberra. It’s safe to say Alex is not best pleased that Cecilia – who she used to taunt with the term ‘Sissy’ – is a plus one party-crashing pooper.
Also along for the ride are Halo star Yerin Ha as Tracey, plus Pulse star Daniel Monks, who plays against type as Jamie, something of a mean and snarky queen who teams up with Alex in mercilessly mocking Cecilia over their first shared dinner. Then there’s Lucy Barrett from the Charmed reboot as Emma’s fiancé Fran, and let’s just say her free-wheeling approach to kanga roadkill rolls back around to bite her.
Sissy soon spirals into a wildly fun slasher in which the moral grey is splatter-dashed with gore spurting grotesquely from squished prosthetics dreamt up by renowned designer Larry Van Duynhoven (Relic). In a film where no one gets out of this looking good. Indeed, the vast majority don’t make it out alive. Don't get too attached, because no one is safe and preserving the appearance of an Insta-perfect life is paramount.
It may not be the sharpest satire, but Barlow and Senes have a heap of wicked fun wielding the blunt trauma as Sissy takes a wild stab at everything from influencer culture and wellness voodoo, to body image crises and backstabbing (literally) so-called friend circles.
There are some fun flourishes too, like a couple of nicely inverted establishing shots that turn cinematographer Steve Arnold’s well-realised world upside down to discombobulating effect, or the glittering shimmer of an Insta-filter overlaid on the final girls showdown. It’s a blast, and Dee just runs with it. Or over it, in what’s sure to be a runaway hit for the social media crazy TikTok generation.
Sissy was reviewed at the Sydney Film Festival. There is one more festival screening on Thursday, June 23, at Dendy Cinemas Newtown. Find out more and book here.