SISSY (SXSW 2022) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

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There’s nothing quite like the heartbreak and devastation of a best-friend break-up when you are a kid. Your entire universe collapses, and while not exactly a capital-T Trauma in the grand scheme of things, for some those wounds play a formative role in carving the doubts and insecurities that follow us into adulthood. Enter Cecilia (Aisha Dee), a lonely but increasingly successful social media wellness influencer who through total chance bumps into her early high school BFF Emma (Hannah Barlow) on the cusp of the latter’s wedding.

Tentatively rekindling the friendship they once swore to each other would last forever, Emma invites Cecilia to join her and some close friends for a bachelorette weekend country getaway. But the appearance of Alex (Emily De Marghereti) – the bully who put the wedge between Cecilia and Emma so many years ago – throws quite the spanner in the works, as Cecilia tries to cope with the unexpected and unwanted blast from the past.

WIth the title taken from the nickname Alex used to cruelly taunt Cecilia as a child, this Australian horror comedy runs at a cracking pace, not holding back on the camp excesses and satisfying levels of gore that mark the best contemporary slasher films. Co-directed by Barlow herself and Kane Senes, Sissy is proudly Australian without collapsing into Crocodile Dundee-esque self-parody, and this manifests as much through the specific kind of self-effacing, tongue-in-cheek style of comedy as it does more overt elements like accent and (as in the case of one rather unfortunate kangaroo) iconography.

Filmed in the national capital Canberra, this is a beautiful city albeit a small one that is far too rarely represented in film. It’s lovely to see the local color of this strange town form the backdrop of such an unrelentingly original and playful horror film (those familiar with the area will, like myself, no doubt be tickled pink recognizing suburban locales such as what I am certain is the illustrious Dickson shops, for example). But this is no mere travelogue; Sissy is a fun and gutsy romp in the playground of horror, employing the genre’s codes and conventions to construct a hard-to-forget snapshot of the frequently volatile terrain of contemporary feminine identity.

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Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas is a multi-award-winning film critic and author who has published nine books on cult, horror and exploitation cinema with an emphasis on gender politics, including the 2020 book ‘1000 Women in Horror, 1898-2018’ which was included on Esquire Magazine’s list of the best 125 books written about Hollywood. Alexandra is a contributing editor at Film International, a columnist at Fangoria, an Adjunct Professor at Deakin University, and a member of the advisory board of the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies (LA, NYC, London).