Sissy | 2022 | rated R | starring Aisha Dee, Hannah Barlow | written & directed by Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes | 1h 42m |
Bodies Bodies Bodies | 2022 | rated R | starring Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, Rachel Sennott, Lee Pace, Peter Davidson | directed by Halina Reijn | 1 h 34m |
2022 brought us two horror/thrillers that combined social media, social anxiety and mean girls into single-location thrillers. First, the satirical take on high school bullying into adulthood Sissy, then the anxiety mystery Bodies Bodies Bodies, both of which are set around character heavily influenced by social media and safe space culture that ultimately leads to chaos, confusion and death. Both movies were heavily hyped by critics to create the impression that there is a new renaissance of female-led and made movies in front and behind the camera despite that these movies have existed since Frances Marion directed Mary Pickford in The Love Light. But just because they fit into a hype narrative, doesn’t mean they’re bad. Both are well written, very well acted movies that just aren’t going to be revelatory.
Between the two, I may have been more entertained by Bodies Bodies Bodies and more admired and appreciated Sissy. Both movies want to exist just outside of slasher movies, informed by them, but apart from them. Both, but Sissy more successfully, seeks to flip these tropes on their head. Both are well acted, forcing our heroines into a hot-box of tension and revealed secrets that escalates into accidental and intentional death.
In Sissy, an unlicensed youtube therapist specializing in helping viewers manage their safe spaces, Cecilia (Aisha Dee, terrific in ways that will be revealed later in the story) meets up with her childhood best friend (co-writer/director Hannah Barlow) and is invited to her Hen-Do (bachelorette party) where she is forced to interact with a childhood bully and lapses back into old roles over the course of the weekend. Barlow and co-writer Kane Senes do a wonderfully deceptive job of playing with our allegiances. First making us feel for Cecilia against the unreasonable torment of Alex (Emily De Margherti) and then slowly unfurling the truth about their history and Cecilia’s social media persona. It also leans heavily into the gorier horror stuff with bloody deaths and squished heads detailed in the increasing carnage.
Bodies Bodies Bodies is a confined thriller set during a hurricane party where a tight group of wealthy friends plan to spend the night riding out the storm playing games together. In the dynamic comes Bee (Maria Bakalovo, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm) the new girlfriend of estranged group member Sophie (Amanda Stenberg). While playing the murder mystery party game “Bodies Bodies Bodies”, one of the friends (including Rachel Sennot, Shiva Baby, a tolerable Pete Davidson and a delightfully shaggy Lee Pace) ends up actually dead. Paranoia escalates as they try to find the real murderer including revelations that cut deep into the friendships they think they had.
I can’t put my finger on it, but I feel like I’ve seen Bodies before. Everything about it feels familiar from the social anxiety to the fake murder turned real to it’s big “oops” ending. Maybe it’s the usual “when the lights go out” we descend into chaos Stephen King story. Yet the performances are very good all around and the dialog feels real, particularly when it gets deliciously nasty. Guns, swords and weights play into the mayhem as outsider Bee tries to fend off accusations that the odd-man-out has to be the killer – or are they right? The script is tight, cleverly keeping us in the dark about what’s going on. There is fun to be had here, and the mechanics work – particularly for Sissy (the better of the two) but for the most part Bodies and Sissy are horror movies for people who think they are better than horror movies.
Both movies feature characters that exist in a social media world that dictates their language and behavior, what they view as acceptable and what isn’t. Both satirically know that most, if not all, of what goes out online is a lie all of these characters are telling themselves. I greatly appreciate this slant, that unlike this year’s Not Okay and like this year’s funny, cleverly twisted 90s teen throwback Do Revenge, Bodies and Sissy don’t take policed language and social media edicts at face value. Behind the self-aggrandizing happy posts are mean girls who stab each other in the back figuratively and literally at the first chance. Movies, where the most dangerous place you could be is inside a Safe Space.