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

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Sissy

“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. 

Sissy

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. 

Sissy

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

Comedy Horror

Fantasia 2022 Review: ‘Deadstream’ Livestreams a Hectic Haunting

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Deadstream

Written and directed by Vanessa and Joseph Winter, Deadstream is a real-time riot. With goopy practical effects, a bare-bones presentation, and a very intentionally acted lead (played by Joseph Winter), the film concocts a faux-livestream that turns from uneventful to unbelievable over the course of one night.

Leading the livestream is Shawn Ruddy (Winter), a recently disgraced social media star who’s gained his fame by performing a series of ridiculous challenges (including in-poor-taste tests such as “running from the cops” and “smuggled across the border”). With his grand return to the internet (after an apology video, naturally), Shawn has decided to take a spooky turn by spending the night in a supposedly haunted house. Of course, when a controversial personality is set loose in a house with a dark past, he’s bound to upset the spiritual balance. 

We’ve seen a few social influencer horror films pop up over the last few years, but it’s a subgenre that’s kind of slid under the radar. With Sissy and Deadstream – both included in Fantasia Fest’s 2022 season – it’s got a bit of a resurgence, but the two films tackle this topic in very different ways. 

Deadstream is a goofy, entertaining romp that throws Shawn around, forcing him to confront his demons (both personal and supernatural). Promising “the most cinematic experience in livestream history”, Shawn delivers just that. It feels kind of like Grave Encounters meets Evil Dead II, with plenty of slapstick comedy and some very active ghosts. 

Winter’s performance is so very over-the-top that it’s actually perfect. It would almost be annoying, but it’s such a precise lampoon of online personalities that it becomes quite impressive. Everything done and said is a deliberate performance. There’s a set “character” that these personalities play, always focused on engagement for the sake of clicks, follows, and sponsors. 

Shawn is a man who is always aware that he’s on camera. His regular interactions with his viewers serves a dual purpose as well; not only is he staying in his very specific character, but it’s also giving the audience a bit more to focus on than just one man with a camera (or set of cameras). 

Everything in the film is orchestrated in a way to keep the plot moving and the audience tuned in. The illusion works; it’s believable (or at least entertaining) content. Winter’s comedic timing is excellent and his line delivery sells the online fantasy.

The proudly 100% practical creature effects and straightforward camerawork keep things simple and manageable for a low budget. The film is clever, well constructed, and puts a fun new twist on both the haunted house and found footage subgenres. Deadstream frolics in the puddle of its own absurdity, and has such a blast doing so, you can’t help but join in the fun.


Deadstream is part of Fantasia International Film Festival‘s 2022 season. For more on Fantasia 2022, click here to read an interview with the writer/director of Skinamarink, or for more influencer horror, check out our review of Sissy.

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Fantasia 2022 Review: ‘Megalomaniac’ is a Weighted Tale of Trauma

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Introducing a film’s troubled protagonists as the children of a real-life serial killer (The Butcher of Mons, whose identity still remains a mystery) is bold. Of course, as horror fans, we appreciate bold, and writer/director Karim Ouelhaj certainly deserves some appreciation. His most recent film, Megalomaniac, is a heavily weighted tale of trauma that’s beautifully composed and enriched with blood-soaked stylization. 

The film follows Martha (Eline Schumacher), born in bloody fury from a victim of the Butcher. We see her as an adult, meek and unstable, working as a cleaner in a factory where she is assaulted by her coworkers with regularity. Her brother, Felix (Benjamin Ramon, Yummy) is a stoic spectre who takes after his father in the most violent of ways. 

The complex and disenchanted characters in Megalomaniac bless (or curse) the film with their dark legacy. It’s immediately compelling. When we first meet Felix, it’s a harsh and – frankly – frightening reminder of how quickly someone can be taken off guard and into the trunk of a car. His efficiency is sobering. 

Schumacher as Martha somehow manages to dominate your attention while remaining socially withdrawn. Her performance is incredible, swinging from one mental state to the next with erratic precision. It’s quite impressive; she completely inhabits this character, and you feel a strange balance of emotions for her. 

Martha’s scenes of trauma are devastating and hopeless. They’re haunting, harrowing, and almost unbearable. Her scenes of solitude are punctured with strange conversations, speaking to herself in harsh tones. But we are still reminded that she is not so delicate. Though her mental state is fragile, she wavers the line between victim and villain. 

Megalomaniac is centralized on this fuzzy distinction, and the echo of trauma that carries across generations. From a horrific heritage, Felix and Martha carry the torch. Pushed by the weight of the patriarchy – and in the vein of New French Extremity classics like Calvaire (which also hails from Belgium) – Megalomaniac challenges its audience to bear the brutality of human nature. 

It’s quite the load to bear, but Megalomaniac is so well put together and so competently navigated that you don’t feel lost in despair. The film hits on the illusion of Manichaeism (the cosmic struggle between good and evil), showing that it’s not quite as simple as that. While the despair is ever-present, there’s almost a comfort in its darkness. 

Executed with stunning visual composition, a powerful pulsing score, and production design to die for, Megalomaniac is an impressive creation. It’s not one you’ll soon forget.


Megalomaniac is playing as part of Fantasia International Film Festival’s 2022 lineup. You can check out the teaser and poster below!

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Horror Movie Review: Gone in the Night

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It’s a bummer to have to report that Gone in the Night is a major disappointment. You would think a movie directed by Eli Horowitz, starring Winona Ryder, Owen Teague and John Ghallager Jr, and premiering in the midnight section at SXSW, would be a lock for a good time at the movies. But none of these elements come together in a way that makes sense. 

Ryder has certainly proved her ability to wow audiences when she’s in the right project. But though she’s terrific in the part here, the idea of using her as a troubled and self-conscious woman who is concerned about her looks is not exactly a good one. I mean, she looks like Winona Ryder. The same can be said for Ghallager, hardly a veteran actor but one who displayed real depth in 10 Cloverfield Lane. His role as the distant boyfriend is so convoluted as to be unenjoyable, and it’s no fun to see him waste his talents on a crummy part. As for director Horowitz (Homecoming), he’s churned out a messy screenplay that takes more twists and turns than a Colorado river, and has none of the thrills that would make such a trip worth it.

The combination of all these elements is a horror flick that seems like a no-brainer but is really just a horror flick with no brains. From the moment we lay eyes on Kath (Ryder), we can tell something is off with her and the script, which has the gal to cast Ryder as a “woman past her prime.” Kath is a middle-aged botanist who enjoys drinking with her friends, while her partner, Max (Ghallager), enjoys going to rock concerts with his buddies. A weekend vacation is supposed to do them some good; however, things take a turn once they get to the cabin.

Once they arrive, they find another car parked in the driveway. Before anyone can say “double booking,” a guy named Al (Teauge) walks out of the shadows, tells them to F-off, and then spits an orange peel into Kath’s face. While most people would leave when a guy spits an orange peel into their face, these are horror movie characters, so the couple decides to stick around when Al’s girlfriend asks them to spend the night. The next morning, Kath wakes up to an empty house. She walks into the forest where a drunken Al tells her that Max ran off with his girlfriend, probably because she was a younger option. Since Khat struggles with her age, she needs to find out if Max really left because of her seniority and reaches out to cabin owner Nicholas (Dermot Mulroney) for help.

The whole thing is a wild concept, hinging on the plausibility of every character’s motivations, which are all a bit flimsy. Why would Max want to leave Kath? And why would Nicholas want to go on a trip to find him? The audience is asked to go along with these questions so the story can be folded around them. The two eventually go on the prowl, of course, but they end up spending more time bonding with each other than they do in perilous situations…that is until the twists start coming. 

The tone of Gone In The Night, which veers from slow to tense to comedic to bonkers, never gels into place. Certain characters are scrapped for plot twists and story reveals that are so wild they don’t make any sense, though Ryder certainly has fun with them, delivering an increasingly unhinged performance against Mulroney, who mutters quietly. Though the cast members suggest prestige, this is really just a Lifetime movie dressed up in a suit, and the sooner audiences realize that the better, because anyone with high expectations will be disappointed from the very first frame. 2.5/5

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