I am not a huge fan of horror films. Some bore me and others just gross me out, but occasionally, I stumble across one that excites me. During the SXSW Film Festival this year, ‘Sissy’ a film directed and co-written by Kane Senes and Hannah Barlow engaged and surprised me. Clever writing and even more gratifying performances create an excellent horror genre diversion.

Aisha Dee plays the titular character, Sissy (Cecilia), who spends her energy as a self-help influencer. Ironically, Sissy parted ways with her childhood best friend after a vicious encounter with a bullying third friend. Sissy teeters on the edge of a breakdown, leaving her riddled with self-doubt and emotional turmoil. She hides it well, at first and encourages her followers to find their center through meditation. While out one day, Sissy encounters Emma, her one-time best friend, and is invited to Emma’s bachelorette get-together. The tension is palpable from the start of the weekend and we soon learn of the dark childhood secret that broke up the friendships. Sissy’s past catches up with her and her sweet, seemingly together façade starts to unhinge.

Dee delights with her soft-seemingly stable demeanor which slowly and violently unravels before our eyes. Sissy’s in-the-mirror affirmations only add to the unsettling creepiness that unfolds in bits and flashbacks. We discover why her friends treat her the way they do and we see the real Sissy as she unravels.  Her bully, played by Emily De Margheriti, continues the same kind of verbal assault she inflicted on Sissy as a child, causing discomfort and disquiet in the group but no one clearly stands up for Sissy. The ensemble cast cinches the craziness as the night unfolds and madness and mayhem ensue.

Senes and Barlow offer up a suspenseful story with some decent twists and surprises. The ride begins slowly, builds, and then accelerates into a wild massacre. Dee is so good at playing sweet Sissy and even more impressive as she struggles to hold it together. Senes and Barlow make excellent use of their star and watching her unwind and brutally exact her revenge is shockingly realistic. For me, there is a bit too much gross-for-gross-sake gore, but horror fans will love Sissy’s means for murder.

“Sissy” is an excellent addition to the horror genre. The film’s direction impresses making full use of suspense-creating lighting, simple sets, and creepy camera angles. Bullying is at the heart of ‘Sissy’ and the message is clear. What happens to people in their youth does haunt many. Thankfully, we don’t all do as Sissy does. I am placing 4 out of 5 stars on the top of this review. Bravo to the filmmakers.’ I hope that a wide release is in order for ‘Sissy.”

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