Running into an ex-best friend is bound to be awkward. There’s no way around it. If something happened to end your friendship, it will loom over your relationship for your entire lives.
That’s exactly what happens in Sissy, the feature directorial debut of writer/actor Hannah Barlow in partnership with writer/producer Kane Senes. Cecilia (Channel Zero’s Aisha Dee) runs into her childhood best friend Emma (Barlow) at a supermarket, and Emma clumsily invites Cecilia — known as “Sissy” during childhood — to her bachelorette weekend. There, Cecilia is surrounded by unknown faces, plus her former bully, Alex (Emily De Margheriti) and a whole host of things that could end up going very, very wrong.
I’ll start by saying this film looks absolutely stunning. It uses expert camera work to accentuate the cringe factor and awkward nature of most scenes early on, and the performances perfectly convey what we are supposed to be feeling. Everything seems great at first. When they overcome the initial awkwardness, it seems like Emma’s weekend might turn out to be somewhat of a friendship mender.
What follows is a slow burn, giving us a detailed look into Cecilia’s psyche and mental state while we slowly unravel the mystery of what exactly happened to her, Emma and Alex as children that changed everything. All the while, before even revealing the event itself, Sissy asks us if we should always take responsibility for what we do as children. It asks how those actions might affect us as we grow up. The film gradually escalates until it seems discontent with its pacing, and then begins to accelerate far quicker.
I will grant that Sissy goes in directions I didn’t expect, but when it becomes a very different movie midway through it turns into something that is not as innovative or unique as I was hoping it would be. A mental breakdown is a generous term for the story turn, and while I won’t spoil exactly what happens, it becomes extremely graphic and disturbingly psychological. Cecilia needs validation, both for her present self and her past actions, but unfortunately, the deployment of what was surely intended to be a shocking twist doesn’t land quite as well as it should have. The incredibly talented cast manages to carry it to the finish line, but I wish it had stuck to one track instead of drastically changing directions in an irreversible way.
Sissy is a solid, if forgettable, horror experience. It’s exciting and beautiful to look at, though in the end, its dourness is its downfall and committed talent isn’t enough to fully salvage it.
Sissy premiered at SXSW ‘22.