Saturday, August 6

Sissy Q and A

 SISSY Q&A with Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes

In SISSY, childhood trauma comes back with vengeance. After over a decade apart, pre-teen best friends Cecilia and Emma run into each other at the pharmacy. Emma is delighted to catch up with her bestie “Sissy” and quickly invites her to her bachelorette weekend getaway in the Australian outback.

SISSY is a nice blend of horror/comedy with satirical messaging around social media and some damn good practical effects and kill scenes.

Writers/directors Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes chatted with me virtually about their second feature film that recently screened at Fantasia International Film Festival 2022.

Theresa Dillon (TD) - What was your inspiration for creating this film? 

Hannah Barlow (HB) - I think there are lots of things. There’s the childhood bullying aspect, which is personal. There’s the toxic consequences of us all being engaged with social media as a generation. That’s our kind of intellectual social commentary, and that’s where the satire comes in. And then there’s also the road trip, almost the core element, which stems from our last film (FOR NOW) which was a $25,000 road trip movie we shot in seven days that was completely improvised. 

So when that came out, we did some screenings and received some feedback that if we turned that film into a slasher at the midpoint, it would have had some commercial success. And so that kind of inspired us.

Kane Senes (KS) - When you’ve only got like 25K to make a film, and seven days to shoot it, genre works quite well for that. I think it's the only way to do it really well. 

I mean there’s amazing genre films that get made for no money as well. But we didn’t know how to do it, that’s for sure. It was a testing ground to see if we could work together and we love working together and wanted to do it again. So we decided to do it in more of a conventional sense. We wrote a proper screenplay, we went and got it funded, and made a movie in a kind of tried and tested way as opposed to the very kind of experimental nature. So now we feel like we’re onto something and that’s what we’re going to look to keep doing moving forward.

TD - Your film has a nice blend of slasher and a playful light-heartedness. Were there any horror films that influenced you to go this route in the creative process?

KS - We kind of approached it as a combination of Y2K, late 90’s, coming of age type comedies.

HB - Our main goal was in vain of BRIDESMAIDS or CROSSROADS. CROSSROADS most people write off, but I think, was a core film of that generation.

KS - And also MURIEL'S WEDDING which is an iconic Australian movie. I remember there’s comedy but it’s actually a very dark film and when we really looked at it, we just kind of thought “Well, what if you kind of snapped and killed all your friends?” 

And that led us to a slasher because we wanted to make something in the horror space.

There’s a great thing you can do with horror, which is quite unique and that you can’t really do with any other genre, which is to approach a topic and really attack it in an over-the-top way. 

In drama that comes across as unrealistic and it takes you out of the viewing experiences. As an audience member in horror, that’s what you want. You want to be shocked. You want to be disturbed. You want to be really entertained. 

That was a fun playground to play in as a filmmaker because anything goes and from the horror side of things, it was movies like CARRIE, that is probably the greatest kind and first of its kind in terms of getting revenge on the bully.

And so it was CARRIE, it was SINGLE WHITE FEMALE in terms of the female would kind of toxic female relationship and also all the 60’s and 70’s giallos, slashers in general, and just our love of 90’s filmmaking aesthetic. 

HB - And DEATH BECOMES HER sort of tone,

KS - Yeah, the kind of horror comedy tone from DEATH BECOMES HER. Horror comedy was something we wanted to do and when you really look at it, there’s not a lot them.

TD - No, that's a really hard area to break out in. 

KS - Yeah and those are often our favorite film experiences as a viewer because they’re just so entertaining.

HB - And GET OUT changed the game. It just reminded us that we can meld genres. 

KS - Yeah. Which Tarantino has made a career off doing that. It’s just really fun to mash up genres and really feel anything goes. 

TD - You touch pretty hard on our current influencer culture in SISSY. What is your current view on influencers and what would you want viewers walking away thinking?

HB - We think it’s a double-edged sword. You know for millennials, Gen Z, it’s a legitimate profession. I have friends who are influencers in their own ways. I think that it's just sad really. Like you’re commodifying your life to these conglomerates or companies benefit, and it’s exhausting. And I think it has a huge impact on people’s mental health, but it’s also not helping us as people who are absorbing what they’re profiting. 

I think it’s proven now that social media is bad for your mental health. Physiologically, and psychologically, we are now starting to think in eight second bytes, which is really bad for our brain cell memory, especially TikTok. 

But it’s also an incredible tool to connect with people across the world. Like we’re always meeting people at festivals and starting friendships and we’re able to maintain those friendships and build them because of Instagram.

KS - Technology is leading us right rather than the other way around. It’s exponentially moving at a rate that we can’t keep up with. Across the board, technology is kind of forcing us to evolve at a rate that we’re not naturally ready to do. That’s where a lot of the negative aspects of social media come from. 

It’s a swinging pendulum moment we’re kind of in the middle of right now. It’s a big seismic shift in terms of technology and our online lives and we're getting more and more detached from nature and from natural rhythms.

HB - Our personalities are homogenizing. Individualism is kind of disappearing. I think it’s the Kardashian effect, and for women, our self-worth and self-perception is becoming distant. It’s just really scary. 

TD - Your special effects are on point. What scene or kill was the most difficult to film or figure out how to film?

KS - I would say the roadside one where Fran gets it.

TD - Yeah, I wasn't expecting that one. I was like, Oh, shit.

KS - We had to make a mold of her head and obviously the mold had to be made in advance, but you also have to think about what position that she’s going to be in on the day that you film it. And you have to reverse engineer the whole thing.

 And because of the way we did it, in a more traditional sense, the actor had to lay there. And then you’d cut away and then you’d cut back to just the dummy head getting squashed. But we wanted to have the actor’s face live and within the same shot, have that head squash so we had to kind of line up the actor with the fake head.

HB - That fake head was amazing. 

KS - Larry Van Duynhoven, he’s like the Tom Savini of Australia. He’s just doing all the practical effects and all the genre movies in Australia. And we were very lucky to get him and his guys and because he was able to help explain how to pull off that kind of thing. 

And then also Seth Larney, he really was kind of adamant that we tried to get it all in the one shot. And I think really made the shot. 

And similarly with the body going off the cliff, to not necessarily cut away to inserts of bones crunching, which might have been more graphic, but if you can hold it in one shot, to figure out how to bounce that body off rocks. Both were really good examples of just having a practical effects guy, and then also your VFX guy and then figuring out a way where we can use both tools to kind of make the impossible shots. 

That’s the advantage of VFX. Even though we like to do as many things practically in the camera as we can, the addition of VFX supplements. The practical effects just help kind of add that element of impossibility to it.

TD - We’ve only got time for one more question so any last words for the mean girls and bullies out there?

HB - Yeah, I think beware of the consequences of your actions, but also as much I think kids bully and we get bullied, we have to believe in radical self-responsibility. So as much as no one deserves to get picked on, it’s also your job as an individual to clear your own brooding. I think there’s that message that I can hold on to victimizing myself forever from my childhood bullying, but it’s not helping them and it’s not helping me. 

KS - You can’t control what other people say or do to you. You can only control your reaction to it and how you respond. And that’s on us. And I think we live in a very self-victimizing society. And you know, yes, it would be great if bullying was a thing of the past. But reality is, it's never going to be. But at least we can control how it affects us and practice mindfulness in that sense.

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