The “horror comedy” genre needs a better name. “Horror comedy” obviously cannot receive the same shortening treatment as the beloved “rom-com,” but it is just as deserving of a familiar nickname. (Fun-scare? Cheer-fear? Scary-but-in-a-funny-way? There needs to be a better term.)
The latest movie to elicit this appreciation for the genre from me was “Sissy,” an Australian film released to streaming platforms Sept. 29. The story focuses on Cecilia, known as “Sissy,” a supposed lifestyle influencer who runs into her childhood best friend, Emma, in a supermarket and is invited to her hen party (bachelorette party for those of us non-Aussies).
Cecilia hesitantly accepts Emma’s invitation for a fun weekend at a cabin in the woods — of course — where she encounters a detail Emma has neglected to mention: Her schoolyard nemesis, Alex, owns said cabin in the woods. Alex has not forgiven Cecilia for an incident that occurred 10 years ago in their adolescence, and Alex is not happy that Emma has invited Cecilia unannounced to her house.
Dark and playful is perhaps my favorite combination of aesthetics and is a dichotomy expertly employed throughout “Sissy:” bleach blonde hair versus scars and the sinister nature of a white glitter face mask. Roadkill (a kangaroo, how Australian) is portrayed deliberately unbelievably — you know no animals were harmed in the making of this CGI, yet, somehow, the artificial death suggests its own brand of horror.
The “villain” herself is relatable — she really didn’t mean to murder all those people, initially; it just happened to get a little out of hand, and really, how was she supposed to know that one small push would lead that woman to drown in a bathtub?
In this dark comedy way, “Sissy” brought me back to my horror-comedy awakening at the hands of “Heathers,” the 1988 work of art starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater which lives in my head rent-free, as the children say, and a movie that everyone everywhere must absolutely watch. Death is not funny until it is: a concept beautifully exploited by both “Heathers” and “Sissy,” that dances around the tenets of absurdism, as if one were to tell Camus to lighten up a bit.
The self-awareness of this genre makes it extremely satisfying to watch. In a traditional horror movie, one is always on the receiving end of some frustrating dramatic irony. No, don’t run into the dark, dark woods away from all your friends where you thought you saw something; no, don’t stay in the house with the doll you have a sinking suspicion is possessed; etc., etc.
That’s part of the appeal of a scary movie: the feeling that you, the removed, superior viewer, would never fall for the same trap as the hapless protagonist, which competes with your uncontrollable sympathy for their inevitable plight (even though they should have known better). However, it is refreshing to see this position switched up in horror comedy in its deliberate, outlandish exaggeration of improbable events — everyone knows the situation is ridiculous; even the characters are let in on the irony, yet it’s still scary.
Some well-placed social commentary only enhanced the experience of watching “Sissy.” In the age of the ethically questionable micro-influencer, “Sissy” calls out the dubious life advice of unqualified, self-styled health and wellness gurus and the quest for validation from strangers in lieu of good, old-fashioned human connection.
Of course, some of these “influencers” dole out worthwhile information; where else is one supposed to bookmark the best oatmeal recipes to never make? However, it is always best to remember that, in this deeply entrenched capitalist society that we call home, behind every fresh face waving an incense stick and a self-help book, there is likely a Benjamin-Franklin-bill-aligned impetus. “Sissy” makes good use of this idea, as its final scene depicts the movie’s villain advertising her latest novel exploiting the tragedy that she created, in which she controls the narrative (lies) to render herself a victim.
Horror comedy is the perfect format to capitalize on the unsettling psychology of the influencer figure. The false projection of a flawless lifestyle is a healthy concept for neither the influencer nor the influenced; such a strained, feigned dynamic is ripe for horror. “Sissy” is one of the most recent entries in a string of movies that question the rise and following of social-media-born stars. Another that came to mind while watching was “Ingrid Goes West,” which stars Aubrey Plaza as a devoted-follower-turned-stalker who picks up and moves to California to pursue the friendship and lifestyle of a random micro-influencer.
“Sissy” tracks the inverse scenario, following Cecilia’s craving for the external validation she has been chasing ever since she was bullied at the school playground, for which she has fabricated this bubbly, confident, enigmatic, self-help persona that she turns off as soon as the cameras stop rolling. She teaches her followers a variety of (non)coping mechanisms, and indeed tries to use them herself, but ultimately, repeating the mantra of “I am loved, I am enough” proves to not, in fact, be enough to prevent murder.
It is Cecilia’s search for approval from others that compels her to join the group in the cabin in the woods, and when this group also does not accept her, Cecilia is finally forced to examine the unresolved trauma of her childhood — though it involves more blood than she perhaps would have liked.
Though Cecilia never gets the therapy she likely would have benefited from, she does accomplish new heights of self-discovery that are entertaining and disturbingly relatable. If you’re in the mood for a horror movie that you can stomach watching all by yourself, look no further: “Sissy” fits the bill and will tickle your jaded sense of irony — in an Australian accent, no less.
Rorye Jones PO ’22 gaslit herself into thinking she was part of the Roy family after she was spiritually wrecked from watching “Succession” in two weeks while in New York, and spent the rest of her time there aggressively staring down every suited pedestrian (there were a lot) in search of Matthew Macfadyen. She writes for TSL’s TV and film columns.