Another of this year’s tranche of influencers-must-suffer horrors, this takes a very different approach to its subject – offering a much more complex portrait than, say, Dashcam or Mean Spirited. Cecilia (Aisha Dee), a fractured young woman has reinvented herself as an online calmness guru with 200,000+ followers after moving away from her childhood nickname ‘Sissy’ and getting past a violent incident that tagged her as a psycho. Her new fragile serenity is shredded by a chance encounter with Emma (Hannah Barlow), her childhood best friend, which leads to an invitation to a ‘hens weekend’ that brings her face to scarred face with Alex (Emily De Margheriti), the bully whose particularly female brand of playground cruelty arguably ruined both their lives. Along for the trip to a minimalist luxury retreat in the wilderness are Emma’s fiancée Fran (Lucy Barrett) and newish friends Tracey (Yerin Ha) and Jamie (Daniel Monks), who don’t know about the backstory but instinctively side with the obvious cold bitch Alex against Cecilia even though they’re all impressed enough by her follower count to take her seriously … until the past bubbles up again in a way that leads to semi-accidental and semi-deliberate deaths (first, of a kangaroo – just to underline that this is an Australian film).
Written and directed by Hannah Barlow – whose onscreen character may be even crazier and more dangerous than either of the obvious antagonists – and Kane Senes, this is a zeitgeisty, of-the-moment splatter charade in the manner of Bodies Bodies Bodies or Tragedy Girls. It’s viciously witty when it has to be, and walks an interestingly fine line in depicting the world of young women who’ve not quite grown up. Cecilia’s mental wellness clips, which involve making a circle of pink rope that looks creepily like a noose and a mantra out of Dougal and the Blue Cat, are not outrageously parodied and Dee (who is stunning throughout) doesn’t take the easy route of making them utterly ridiculous – but the dead nasty Alex has a point when she is astonished that someone who has in the past shown capability for extreme violence (under extreme provocation) is giving advice to desperate people without anything like a professional qualification. This is capped by the quiet reveal that Fran is actually a psychotherapist in training – though she’s unperceptive enough about the whirl of abuses and neuroses in this crowd to suggest she has less empathy than potential loose cannon Cecilia. An understated angle is that Fran, like Sissy, isn’t white – suggesting that Emma’s childhood bond with Sissy was a precursor to her later sexual preferences as much as a glittery, gushy BFF sisterliness.
Look and tone align Sissy with The Loved Ones as an Australian take on the shortfall between sundrenched soap and gory horror – and, as Anton Bitel pointed out, there’s a tiny, significant nod to Muriel’s Wedding. All of this would probably be enough for a pointed, biting comedy of embarrassment without the body count … but as the corpses drop or are mangled beyond recognition (this has enough head-squashings to give S. Craig Zahler pause), Barlow and Senes keep playing on our torn sympathies. Yes, Sissy was wronged and there’s a version of this story – in her head, perhaps – where she’s the persecuted heroine fighting back against awful people – how many films in today’s climate would dare present a disabled gay character who’s a complete bastard (Monks is hilariously horrid in the role)? – but she’s also someone who really shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near sharp objects.