Shudder jumps on horror comedy ‘Sissy’ as film impresses at SXSW

(L-R): Lisa Shaunessy, Emily De Margheriti, William Day Frank, Lucy Barrett, Aisha Dee, Kane Senes, Hannah Barlow, Jason Taylor, John De Margheriti, and Bec Janek attend the 'Sissy' premiere at SXSW. (Photo: Sean Mathis/Getty Images for SXSW)

AMC’s horror-themed streaming service Shudder has acquired the streaming rights to Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes’ Sissy for North America, the UK, Ireland and Australia and New Zealand.

The streamer pounced on the film ahead of its world premiere at SXSW over the weekend, where it impressed critics with its sense of humour and performances – it has a 100 per cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes so far.

The Canberra-shot Sissy is headed by The Bold Type‘s Aisha Dee, who plays Cecilia, a successful social media influencer who is living the dream until she runs into her ex-teenage best friend, Emma (Barlow).

After reconnecting, Emma invites Cecilia on her bachelorette weekend at a remote cabin in the mountains, where Alex (Emily de Margheriti) – the girl who came between their friendship – proceeds to make Cecilia’s weekend a living hell.

Also starring are Daniel Monks, Yerin Ha, Lucy Barrett, Shaun Martindale, Amelia Lule, April Blasdall and Camille Cumpston.

Sissy is produced by Lisa Shaunessy and Bec Janek for Arcadia, John De Margheriti for DEMS Entertainment and Freedom Films’ Jason Taylor with executive producers Alexandra Burke, Vicki De Margheriti, William Day Frank, Barlow, Senes, Anna Dadic, Jacqueline Kerwick, Seth Larney, Mathieu Van De Velde and Clement Dunn.

The deal was negotiated by XYZ ​Films, LevelK ​and Arcadia on behalf of the filmmakers and Emily Gotto on behalf of Shudder.

Shudder general manager Craig Engler said: “Directors Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes’ script crafted something special, a stylish and thoroughly modern horror comedy with bite, led fearlessly by Aisha Dee. We can’t wait for audiences to meet Sissy.”

Shaunessy described Shudder as the “perfect home” for Sissy.

“The team at Shudder are the best at bringing elevated horror to engaged audiences across major territories. As filmmakers, to know Sissy will be celebrated by a genre-loving audience like Shudder’s is a dream come true.” 

Arcadia still plans a theatrical release of Sissy in Australia around Halloween, with Shudder taking P1 SVOD for ANZ.

In her review for the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas described Sissy as “proudly Australian without collapsing into Crocodile Dundee-esque self-parody.”

“This manifests as much through the specific kind of self-effacing, tongue-in-cheek style of comedy as it does more overt elements like accent and (as in the case of one rather unfortunate kangaroo) iconography,” she wrote.

Sissy is a fun and gutsy romp in the playground of horror, employing the genre’s codes and conventions to construct a hard-to-forget snapshot of the frequently volatile terrain of contemporary feminine identity.”

In Slash Film, Matt Donato wrote that Barlow and Senes have chosen “the most the most in-your-face and extreme medium possible to drive their point home, messily and brashly but not without impact.”

“Aisha Dee captures victims like fireflies and encapsulates everything disgusting about social media princesses who take advantage of the very followers they claim to support — a frayed performance as Dee smiles like the devil,” he said.

The Austin Chronicle’s Sarah Jane posited that Barlow and Senes have added “another in the notch in the bedpost of notable horror films from their weird, fucked up, country.”

“There’s a lot going for Sissy. The cast is pretty great, led by Dee. She’s in nearly every scene and boy, the camera loves her. It’s funny and… it’s very dark. There was a lot of laughter at premiere and perhaps some of it was of the uncomfortable kind. There was rather a lot of violence, which is always a plus, and the aftermath effects of it are excellent. Well done, Team Gore.”

Sissy is one of seven Australian projects to feature in SXSW line-up this year, the others being Gracie Otto’s Seriously Red in the Narrative Feature Competition, Back to Back Theatre’s Shadow in the Visions section, Lachlan McLeod’s Clean, premiering in the Documentary Feature Competition, Ryan Griffin’s Lustration VR in the XR Experience Competition, Danny Cohen’s Anonymous Club and VR documentary Gondwana.

SXSW continues both in-person in Austin, Texas and online until March 20.