Social media horror has totally been trending over the last few years. For horror filmmakers interesting in a bit of social commentary with their jumps, several recent movies have taken aim at influencer subculture and the social media obsession with followers and ‘likes’. Some of these movies have used social media or influencers simply propel a story forward (Margaux, Fall, The Seed). Others have put social media culture under a microscope in one way or another (Shook, #FollowMe, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair). Now Shudder’s latest release, Sissy, looks to tackle similar themes mixed in the neo-slasher and familiar social outcast revenge genres. To date, critics are pretty enthusiastic about the results.
Sissy and Emma were childhood BFF’s – they did everything together. But when Alex showed up she split the friends apart and mercilessly bullied Sissy. Twelve years later, Sissy now goes by her full name, Cecilia, and she’s a successful influencer on social media. She’s move on from her childhood trauma and insecurity. Or has she? When a she bumps into Emma unexpectedly, the two former friends re-connect and Emma invites Cecilia to her bachelorette party. Too bad it’s a remote cottage owned by the same Alex who made her childhood a living hell Can Cecilia move past her trauma or does the weekend represent a chance for revenge?
Sissy Mostly Balances Its Social Commentary and Horror
For much of its runtime, Sissy downplays its ties to the slasher subgenre, and plays out more like the kind of character study you’d find in old revenge stories albeit with a much more polished quality. Writer and directors Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes first introduce us to a composed and successful Cecilia during one of her social media promos in a bit that includes a decent helping of dark humor. Much of Sissy’s story takes aim at influencer culture and the wholly performative nature of our social media existence. These scenes squarely their intended target. For example, a later scene in which Emma’s new friends point out the hypocrisy and potential dangers of an unqualified social media personality offering life advice are extremely uncomfortable. In fact, Cecilia’s efforts to fit in with this peer group elicit almost as much discomfort as the visceral horror that follows.
Much of Sissy’s story takes aim at influencer culture and the wholly performative nature of our social media existence.
Barlow and Kenes contrast Cecilia’s effortless social media personality with her awkward real world persona. When Cecilia becomes stressed following her interpersonal failures she retreats to read followers’ comments. Sissy uses a neat camera trick to show Cecilia’s eyes dilate as she’s instantly relieved by escaping to social media. It’s not the real world, but it’s the only world where she’s comfortable. As Sissy hits its third act, Barlow and Senes fully embrace the movie’s slasher overtures. Things don’t necessarily ratchet up – the pace remains purposeful and Sissy never loses sight of its big picture. Nevertheless, slasher fans will be delighted – and casual horror fans shocked – by the small body count carnage. There’s some cringeworthy practical effects put on the display. And while Barlow and Senes emphasize dark humor over scares, this is still a horror movie that will have some viewers turning away from the screen.
Sissy Should Be a Star-Making Vehicle for Aisha Dee
So much of Sissy rests on Aisha Dee’s shoulders. And that’s a good things because she’s fantastic as the title character. Social outcast and revenge movies only work in so far as the audience can identify with and care about the protagonist. Even when they finally do awful things, the role calls for a performance that can still remind audiences of the character’s humanity. What Dee delivers is a layered performance that balances and awkward earnestness with hopeful optimism, desperation, and hints of her lingering trauma. It’s painful watching Sissy fail in her attempts to fit in, but Dee always reminds us that we’ve all been there ourselves. As Sissy slips into madness, it doesn’t feel like a huge leap for the character. Yet Dee ensures we still care about what happens to her.
So much of Sissy rests on Aisha Dee’s shoulders. And that’s a good things because she’s fantastic as the title character.
Barlow and Senes’ screenplay doesn’t ask as much from the rest of its cast. As childhood BFF Emma, Barlow (yes, she pulls triple duty here) convincingly brings to life a woman genuinely happy to reconnect with an old friend but caught between her past and present group of friends. Sissy clearly doesn’t fit into Emma’s new life, and Barlow’s ‘Emma’ looks pained by that growing realization. Comparatively, Emily De Margheriti’s bully, Alex, is a one-dimensional character by necessity. Sissy requires Alex to be ‘nasty’ and ‘petty’, and De Margheriti does the role justice. No one else really registers, which is no fault of the cast. They’re here to give the movie a bit of a body count.
Sissy One of the Better Horror Takes on Social Media Culture
For the most part, Sissy effectively straddles the lines of social commentary and neo-slasher horror movie. While several recent horror movies have taken aim at social media and influencer cultures, Sissy distinguishes itself as of the better efforts since Tragedy Girls. There’s some cutting messages here about hollow nature of our ‘click like and subscribe’ culture and potential dangers of unqualified online personalities offering life advice. And the third act delivers some pretty graphic and shocking deaths. Perhaps Barlow and Senes could have trimmed some the movie to improve its pacing and create a bit more of a sense of urgency. But the final results are still pretty effective and satisfying.