Earlier this month, Australian filmmakers Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes celebrated the world premiere of their pitch-black horror comedy Sissy at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival. Co-written by both Senes and Barlow, the film’s story is centered around two estranged childhood best friends named Cecilia (Aisha Dee) and Emma (Barlow) who cross paths as adults, and their attempt to reconnect during Emma’s bachelorette weekend goes awry when Cecilia finds herself on the outs with Emma’s fiancée, Fran (Lucy Barrett), and the rest of her friends (including another childhood acquaintance named Alex, played by Emily De Margheriti), culminating in a hellish experience for everyone.

While in Austin, Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with the filmmakers and several members of the cast of Sissy about their experiences collaborating on the project, and during our conversation, we chatted about the inspirations behind the story, how and why Aisha Dee was the perfect person to take on the role of Cecilia, their thoughts on Sissy finding a home at Shudder prior to its premiere, and more.

So great to speak with all of you today, and congratulations on Sissy. For Hannah and Kane, probably a good place to start would be to talk about this character of Cecilia and what was the impetus for this story from both of your perspectives.

Hannah Barlow: Childhood bullying is where we started with it. And then also just responding to the culture that we were living in at the time back in 2018. That's when we started writing the movie. So, we were looking at how social media has an impact on our generation’s mental health, and how that is actually playing out in real time, not through the filters that we're all putting out to the world.

Kane Senes: Then, I guess it probably wasn't until we met with Aisha about it that we realized, with the way that she interpreted the character, that this story became a three-way discussion in that sense, which it just elevated to another level. I think the way Aisha played the character makes her a lot more likable. I don't know if that was originally in this script, on the page for you when you read it.

Aisha Dee: No, I remember reading the script and first of all, I just loved the moment when she got her period. That was when I was like, "Oh, I'm obsessed with this movie." And then I was like maybe 50 something pages in and it said that Cecilia smiles in a creepy way and I was offended for her. I was like, "Fuck you, she's not smiling because it's creepy. She's smiling because she's happy," or whatever. I don't remember what my reasoning was, but I was fully on her side. I would've thrown hands for Cecilia. And originally, I was reading it with the intention of, "Oh, could I play Fran?" And then I finished it. And I was like, "I feel so defensive of Cecilia. I don't think I could play Fran, but I love this script." I asked my manager to pass along that message, and then they were like, "Would you be into playing Cecilia?"

Kane Senes: I remember talking to you about it on Zoom, and you were standing up for this character, almost against us being like, "You're judging this character." We're like, "We're not... shit, you're right" [laughs].

Hannah Barlow: You said to us that you felt like this story was actually about someone stepping into their power and I was like, "Oh, far out, I've never thought of it that way."

Kane Senes: We obviously wanted to empathize with Cecilia because I guess she, like the antagonist in many ways, not to give it away, but [she] is the protagonist. So as opposed to a lot of the slashers that inspired us, where you are from the perspective of one of the victims and the bad guy's a bad guy, right? But in this, it's obviously our main character, let's just say without giving too much away, is the antagonist in many ways. But when we talked to Aisha, she was like, "I just don't see it that way. I see it like they're all bullying her. They're the antagonists."

Hannah Barlow: And you're right. That's why you side with her, right?

Aisha Dee: I opened this script and was like, "This serial killer, she seems like a good person" [laughs].

How about for you ladies? When you read the script, what was it about this story that hooked you and you realized you really wanted to be a part of this?

Emily De Margheriti: Well, I liked the nostalgia to it, like the BFF necklaces and the glitter and the time capsules. I don't know, I feel like that brings you back. It's like friendship frozen in time as well, which is interesting. And yeah, I guess this idea that perception is not reality was something important to explore here. I just find it fascinating with all of that stuff, like with social media and how people put out an image, like what you guys are saying, and that's not necessarily what's reality. That, to me, is really interesting. And the fact that Alex, as well, she's been hurt by Cecilia in the past, but I'm seen as the bully in a way. But every bully has a story.

Lucy Barrett: I think for me, it was mid-COVID, but it was the first script I had received in a while that I was just instantaneously hooked to. I think I read it and I speed read it. I was like, "This is so good. And then I read it again, and I sent in the tape and then had a really awesome chat with Hannah and Kane. It was the writing and meeting them, and I also hate to use the word “diverse,” but the fact that this had such a diverse cast. I never read something with, I didn't know Aisha was playing Cecilia at the time, but several women of color, a gay couple, and a disabled man in the same cast. It's epic.

Aisha Dee: Yeah, I've never seen an Australian movie that looked like this.

Lucy Barrett: I've never seen any movie that looked like this.

That's true. I watch hundreds of movies every year, so anytime somebody can bring something new to the table, but they do it in a way that feels organic, that always sticks out to me. I really appreciated that about Sissy for sure, especially in how Jamie’s cane becomes so integral in the story.

Hannah Barlow: We're a little nervous about it.

Kane Senes: We actually wrote that role for Daniel.

Hannah Barlow: I met him when I was 21, and I was going to be cast in his film because he's actually a filmmaker in his own right. He's a brilliant person. We always wanted to work together and then he was like, "Yeah, let's do it. Write me a role."

Kane Senes: But it was never an intentional thing to be like, "Oh, this character needs to have a cane," or anything like that. It was just, "Well, if he's going to play that, let's write that in somehow." And he always tried to push us because we didn't want to make it seem like we were leaning into his disability at all. He's just our friend and he's a really good actor, so it had nothing to do with that. But he was actually really wanting to work that in. He was like, "I never get to play this type of a role where certain things happen.” He wanted us to turn up the cheekiness.

With the character of Cecilia, there are two performances because you have Cecilia existing in real life and Cecilia in the internet space. Aisha, did you have to put yourself in a different mindset when you were doing one versus the other, or do you feel like they just flowed together because of Cecilia’s own innate ability to mask these things going on inside her mind?

Aisha Dee: You know, I've never really thought about the two modes. If I'm honest, we shot this thing so fast. We shot it in 20 days, and we were not allowed to have any overtime. So, anytime we were shooting any scene, I was just like, "Okay, how do I feel right now? I feel a bit frantic and hectic and... action.” Then I'll just see what comes out of my mouth hole, I guess [laughs].

Hannah Barlow: It just speaks to what a pro Aisha is.

Kane Senes: I think for whatever reason, you connected with the character straight away, so you were able to stay in that character where at a moment's notice, you could pull something out if you needed to.

Aisha Dee: It didn't feel like it was something that was completely outside of something I've experienced because we're all on Instagram. We're all used to doing that. We all experience these influences in our own way, which I think is why so many people connect to the movie. I mean, I don't know about the outside people yet, but I know the people that worked on the movie, everyone felt connected to it for their own personal reason. I think that's because we're all reckoning with this idea that we know these people that live in our phones, but we don't really know them. But everybody thinks they know us, and they have a perception of our lives, but it's really nothing like how we actually live.

Before we go, I have to ask all of you how amazing all of this feels? You are getting to be at a festival with people, which doesn't happen a whole lot these days. But also, you already know where Sissy is heading, too, which is Shudder. So, all of these things have to feel pretty good.

Hannah Barlow:  It's bloody exciting. ​​We are just extremely grateful, especially with everything that's going on in the world. It's just a huge cherry on top of everything, and everybody worked so hard to push this film out into the world, which is so hard to do in Australia, especially. ​​So, to be on the other side of the world after coming out of this pandemic, I feel like I'm on another planet. I don't know about you guys.

Kane Senes: It's nice to be celebrating the film while we're here and not be worried about whether or not someone is going to buy it. It actually allows us to enjoy the festival, and being a part of the first in-person festival in a long while is an added bonus for sure.


Go HERE to catch up on our coverage of the 2022 SXSW Film Festival!

[Photo Credit: Above photo courtesy of Steve Arnold ACS / SXSW.]

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.