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Fantasia 2022 Review: ‘Sissy’ and the Obsession with Online Validation




“I am loved, I am special, I am enough, I am doing my best. We all are”. This is the mantra of Cecilia (known as @SincerelyCecilia), a wellness influencer who preaches acceptance and self care. Trouble is, Cecilia (Aisha Dee), has some skeletons in her closet.

In Sissy (written and directed by Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes), Cecilia runs into Emma (played by Barlow), her childhood best friend. They haven’t seen each other in over a decade, but this fateful encounter brings them back together, just in time for Emma’s bachelorette weekend. Cecilia is invited along for a chance to reconnect, however, the weekend away happens to be held at the vacation home of her childhood bully, Alex (now Emma’s best friend). Cecilia tries to make amends, but tensions rise and sanity crumbles. 


Hailing from Australia, Sissy is about obsession and the secrets we all hide. For every post that shares a seemingly perfect life, there’s an unseen personal history behind the smiles and hashtags. We only present the positives. 

The film smartly shows the physical effects of online praise; the boost of dopamine that tickles your brain. But as the glossy sheen fades and reality creeps back in, things aren’t so shiny. Sissy is a clever and darkly charming demonstration of this obsession with validation. The lengths we’d go to maintain that social ruse. 

Online, sharing any kind of sad reality can get you shunned like a leper. It’s considered either a cry for attention or a disturbing affront. And in a time where nothing is hidden, secrets can ruin you. 

Dee is delightful as Cecilia. As balanced and zen as she seems in her opening video, we see her insecure, messy reality. It’s a good reminder that all those online influencers you see are really just people, presenting their best side with very deliberate design. It’s a fabrication. As she begins to lose her chill, all the cracks from her childhood start to show.  

Each role is perfectly cast, creating a group of characters who are believably close (and catty). Barlow and Senes capture the extreme social anxiety of Cecilia’s situation quite perfectly; anyone who’s had an anxiety attack before will find that pressure uncomfortably real. 

Things escalate quickly when you’re pushed past your anxiety’s breaking point, and Cecilia’s reactions are actually pretty unsurprising. This relatability is well orchestrated by Barlow and Senes, tightening the strings until they snap. 


The film is well polished, well paced, and excellent at crafting a mix of emotions towards our dear sincere Ceclia. Her validation elation and pure bullied dread are beautifully communicated. The score adds to this, too, with a plinking harpsichord to highlight a twisted mental state.

Sissy works well and does exactly what it means to. It’s an entertaining and well crafted horror film, but it also shines a focus on the unreality of online influencers, and what exactly all that attention does to one’s mental health. 

Influencer culture is a bizarre thing. We only see what’s curated, and put our trust in people we don’t know. There’s a conversation within the film that explores this idea; how much should we hold influencers responsible? What are their credentials, really? On a grander scale, what does that pressure do to a person? 

While Sissy does pose some challenges towards influencer culture, it also understands the impulse to want that kind of attention. It acts a bit as a cautionary tale for online obsession, but also serves as a great horror film with some gnarly effects.

Sissy is for anyone who craves validation. It’s for anyone who doesn’t quite feel like they fit in. It’s for anyone who feels like they’re not enough. But really, it’s for everyone.

4 eyes out of 5

Sissy is part of the Fantasia International Film Festival’s 2022 lineup. You can check out the trailer and poster below.

For more from Fantasia 2022, check out our review of Rebekah McKendry’s Glorious, or our interview with the writer/director of the chaotically psychedelic All Jacked Up and Full of Worms

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Movie Reviews

TADFF: ‘Founders Day’ is a Sly Cynical Slasher [Movie Review]



Founders Day

The horror genre is inherently socio-political. For every zombie film there’s a theme of social unrest; with each monster or mayhem there’s an exploration of our cultural fears. Even the slasher subgenre isn’t immune, with meditations on gender politics, morality, and (quite often) sexuality. With Founders Day, brothers Erik and Carson Bloomquist take the political leanings of horror and make them far more literal.

Short clip from Founders Day

In Founders Day, a small town is shaken by a series of ominous killings in the days leading up to a heated mayoral election. As accusations fly and the threat of a masked killer darkens every street corner, the residents must race to uncover the truth before fear consumes the town.

The film stars Devin Druid (13 Reasons Why), Emilia McCarthy (SkyMed), Naomi Grace (NCIS), Olivia Nikkanen (The Society), Amy Hargreaves (Homeland), Catherine Curtin (Stranger Things), Jayce Bartok (SubUrbia), and William Russ (Boy Meets World). The cast are all very strong in their roles, with particular praise to the two smarmy politicians, played by Hargreaves and Bartok. 

As a Zoomer-facing horror film, Founders Day feels heavily inspired by the 90s teen horror cycle. There’s a wide cast of characters (each a very specific and easily identifiable “type”), some sexy brooding pop music, slashtacular violence, and a whodunnit mystery that pulls the pace. But there’s a lot going on inside the engine; a strong “this social structure is bullshit” energy makes certain scenes all the more relevant. 

One scene shows a feuding protest mob drop their signs to fight over who gets to comfort and protect a queer woman of colour (each claiming “she’s with us”). Another shows a politician attempting to rile up their constituents with an impassioned speech, calling them to storm the town in an offensive defense. Even the diametrically opposed mayoral candidates wear their allegiances on their sleeve (a vote for “change” versus a vote for “consistency”). There’s a whole overarching theme of popularity and profiting from tragedy. It’s not subtle, but dammit it works. 

Behind the commentary is director/co-writer/actor Erik Bloomquist, a two-time New England Emmy Award Winner (Outstanding Writer and Director for The Cobblestone Corridor) and former Top 200 Director on HBO’s Project Greenlight. His work on this film is slasher-horror  comprehensive; from tense single-take shots and excessive violence to a potentially iconic killer’s weapon and costume (that cleverly incorporates the Sock and Buskin comedy/tragedy mask).

Founders Day offers the basic necessities of the slasher subgenre (including some well-timed comedic delivery) while poking a middle finger at political institutions. It presents unflattering commentary on both sides of the fence, suggesting less “right versus left” ideology and more “burn it all down and start over” cynicism. It’s a surprisingly effective inspiration. 

If political horror isn’t for you, that’s… fine, but there’s some bad news. Horror is commentary. Horror is a reflection of our anxieties; it’s a reaction to politics, economy, tension, and history. It’s a counterculture that acts as a mirror on culture, and it’s meant to engage and challenge. 

Films like Night of the Living Dead, Soft and Quiet, and The Purge franchise present a biting commentary on the damaging effects of strong politics; Founders Day cynically reflects on the absurd theatre of these politics. It’s poignant that the suggested target audience for this film is the next generation of voters and leaders. Through all the slashing, stabbing, and screaming, it’s a powerful way to promote change. 

Founders Day played as part of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. For more on the politics of horror, read about Mia Goth defending the genre.

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Movie Reviews

[Fantastic Fest] ‘Infested’ is Guaranteed to Make Audiences Squirm, Jump and Scream




It has been a while since spiders were effective in making folks lose their minds with fear in theaters. The last time I recall it being lose your mind suspenseful was with Arachnophobia. The latest from director, Sébastien Vaniček creates the same event cinema that Arachnophobia did when it was originally released.

Infested begins with a few individuals out in the middle of desert looking for exotic spiders under rocks. Once located, the spider is taken in a container to be sold to collectors.

Flash to Kaleb an individual absolutely obsessed with exotic pets. In fact, he has an illegal mini collection of them in his flat. Of course, Kaleb makes the desert spider a nice little home in a shoe box complete with cozy bits for the spider to relax. To his astonishment, the spider manages to escape from the box. It doesn’t take long to discover that this spider is deadly and it reproduces at alarming rates. Soon, the building is completely packed with them.


You know those little moments we all have had with unwelcome insects that come into our home. You know those instants right before we hit them with a broom or before we put a glass over them. Those little moments in which they suddenly launch at us or decide to run at the speed of light are what Infested does flawlessly. There are plenty of moments in which someone attempts to kill them with a broom, only to be shocked that the spider runs right up their arm and onto their face or neck. shudders

The residents of the building are also quarantined by the police who initially believe that there is a viral outbreak in the building. So, these unfortunate residents are stuck inside with tons of spiders moving freely in vents, corners and anywhere else you can think of. There are scenes in which you can see someone in the restroom washing their face/hands and also happen to see a whole lot of spiders crawling out of the vent behind them. The film is filled with plenty of big chilling moments like that which don’t let up.

The ensemble of characters is all brilliant. Each of them perfectly draws from the drama, comedy, and terror and makes that work in every beat of the film.

The film also plays on current tensions in the world between police states and people who attempt to speak out when in need of real help. The rock and a hard place architecture of the film is a perfect contrast.

In fact, once Kaleb and his neighbors decide they are locked inside, the chills and body count begin to rise as the spiders begin to grow and reproduce.

Infested is Arachnophobia meets a Safdie Brothers film such as Uncut Diamonds. Add the Safdie Brothers intense moments filled with characters talking over each other and shouting in fast-talking, anxiety-inducing conversations to a chilling environment filled with deadly spiders crawling all over people and you have Infested.

Infested is unnerving and seethes with second-to-second nail-biting terrors. This is the scariest time you are likely to have in a movie theater for a long time. If you didn’t have arachnophobia before watching Infested, you will after.

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Movie Reviews

[Fantastic Fest] ‘What You Wish For’ Offers Up A Wicked Dish




I’m a huge fan of these decadent flavors of film. What You Wish For gives us exactly what we wish for by unleashing a razor-sharp film that is all about the rich and how much they can get away with and what insane things may transpire when they get bored. The result is something that is both disturbing and entirely crowd-pleasing.

What You Wish For stars Nick Stahl as Ryan a Chef who is invited by his friend Jack to spend some time in a beautiful, secluded rainforest home. Jack explains that his gig in life has become traveling to beautiful locations and preparing special dinners for collections of powerful rich people.

Once Ryan is brought into the same life as Jack, he quickly discovers that you better be careful what you wish for, and cooking for this collection of people isn’t what he expected… especially when it comes to what is on the menu. All of this sets up for a final act that is an edge-of-your-seat ride filled with just as many laughs as there is propulsive suspense.

What You Wish For

Much like Hitchcock’s Rope, What You Wish For introduces the dangers by placing them in plain sight and then commences to have the characters move about them unaware. Of course, the audience knows of the hidden horrors making for a lean thrill ride.

It’s great to see Nick Stahl back on the big screen too. Stahl had a huge career in his youth. I’m much more interested in this phase of his career. Stahl perfectly embodies this character and is one of those dudes that you root for the entire time.

Nicholas Tomnay directs the absolute heck out of this film. Everything is precise and comes packed lean with all the fat cut off. Moving these characters around and creating the boiling pot for them to squirm and play in is absolutely a brilliant watch.

What You Wish For is a wicked, provocative thriller that is a cross-pollination of Hitchcock and Tales From the Crypt. Tomnay serves up a lean, mean dish that is impossible to pull away from. From start to finish it is a feast of vicious fun.

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