Sybil (April Billingsley), a young woman who’s had a sanity-stretching hard life, is treated by an understanding therapist (Kelsey Scott), who draws out her story of what she thinks has happened to her … while the doctor calmly tries to counter the paranoid, fantastical narrative with a more grounded version. This being in FrightFest, it’s more than a 75-25 chance that the protagonist’s far-fetched tale is the truth, and the well-intentioned doctor will only drive her deeper into madness by trying to force her to deny her own experience. In recent years, Satanic conspiracies have proliferated in horror – Hereditary, especially, revived that 1970s form – and there are quite a few films on this year’s FF lists with witches, plots, persecution and lone survivors struggling to be heard.
Director Dan Bush (The Signal, The Vault), who co-wrote with actor Conal Byrne, abjures the magic circles, chanting, robes and ‘blessed bes’ to encircle the ominously-named Sybil with a stripped-down conspiracy that has messed with her life ever since she was found in a trunk in a trailer after her birth mother ODd. She believes she has limited telepathic powers, which have prompted a highly-placed circle to be interested in her bloodline – and that she was impregnated by David Hollyfield (Byrne), an agent of the supposed charitable trust which has supported her foster mother, in order to breed a child with even more enhanced powers, which has been stolen from her by plausible, sinister types. Of course, the authorities just think she was knocked up by a one-night stand and has had a breakdown after losing her baby.
It’s a simple enough story, but powerfully played by Billingsley – Sybil is bitter, sarcastic, sly, and cunning because she has to be to cope with her circumstances, though she’s aware that her attitudes aren’t calculated to enlist anyone to her side – and directed for maximum unease.