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BEWARE THOSE WHO ENTER: The Unadjusted Girl and the Exaggerated Societal Fear of Closeness

By Palmira C. Muñiz    February 12, 2024

SISSY and its peers are perfect examples of vulnerability demonstrated as a punitive offense and how the traumatic experience of emotional abuse can lead to the dangerously over exaggerated fear of letting ourselves be seen for who we
truly are.

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Star Aisha Dee (Ghosting, Channel Zero) plays Cecilia (or nicknamed “Sissy”), a successful social media influencer living the millennial dream. Everything seems to be going her way until she runs into her estranged best friend Emma (played by director, Hannah Barlow) for the first time in over a decade. Emma has the half baked idea to invite Cecilia to her hen’s weekend at a remote cabin, there with Emma’s fiance (Lucy Barrett), their friends (Yerin Ha, Daniel Monks), and an old childhood bully named Alex (Emily De Margheriti.) Alex proceeds to make Cecilia's weekend a living hell, just like
she did when they were kids.

With a Black girl protagonist/villain/final girl wearing natural hair on screen, I was sold. Sissy is a fun movie with a stellar performance by Aisha Dee and excellent writing from Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes. Most audiences also enjoyed the film, but some reviews touched on the film’s subject,“the downfalls of social media and influencer culture.” Some focused on the bullying aspect of it, mentioning how this concept was overdone and unoriginal. Influencer culture is the backdrop of the film, I won’t deny that but the film has much more to offer than that. Cecilia is the poster child for our generation’s over- exaggerated fear of showing others our true selves and how the inevitable unmasking of that true self can lead to chaos.

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Stephen King’s Carrie (1976), like Sissy, was much more than just a body of work dedicated to showcasing the consequences of bullying. Writer Bishida writes in their opinion piece of the film:

“If you weren’t on her side before, you 100% are by the time she unbottles nearly 20 years of outrage. The horror of […] Carrie does but what she has been subjected to – a daily, constant, specifically gendered nastiness that is unsensational because it’s so all-consuming, normalized, and endemic. When she uncorks her full power it’s a triumph, a
release – the naked blood-streaked face of female fury.” (The Guardian, Bishida, 2015).

This puts into words what is also true about Sissy; Cecilia stepping into her unmasking triumph, her power, as a release. Like in many revenge films, we see that because of the detachment of the emotional self, everyone, including Sissy, will have to face the consequences.

In this piece, I examine the characters Cecilia, Carrie, May (May 2003), and Alex Dall (The Novice 2021), and how they have embodied our fears of emotional intimacy.

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The Desire to Connect

In Sissy, we see Cecilia and Emma’s relationship bloom as children, a friendship that started before they were even born. They create videos together, wear matching pink wigs, and bury a time capsule shoe box together. Emma says on camera, “I can’t imagine my life without [Sissy.]” We see how important this connection is for a sensitive
child like Cecilia. With characters who depict female rage, we see the consequence of denying a child the natural need of connection. We get characters like Sissy, Carrie, and May who have been broken down into killers by their families or peers, but perhaps were not natural born killers.


Despite their motives being driven by love, loneliness, or revenge they all have something in common: they crave connection. Unlike their respective bullies, these protagonists honor their initial desire to connect so badly yet have difficulty doing so while those who cause them grief seem able to exist freely and form bonds so easily. This narrative is so frustrating to not only witness, but to experience in real life. Like Carrie, Sissy is ostracized and ridiculed by her peers but for her sensitivity and desire for connection. Sissy’s biggest trigger was Alex Kutis and the name “Sissy the Sissy” in grade school. Emma, of course, provides no support for Sissy, as she is a bystander, both as a child and an adult.

This specific sensitivity looks different depending on the character but can still carry the same impact. Similarly to Cecilia, May in the protagonist - named film, was a sensitive and passive young woman recovering from a doll - obsessed mother. Through her ability to connect with children, animals, and her dolls, we see that May does not connect as well with her peers. On the other hand, we have a film like The Novice with a mind blowing performance from Isabelle Fuhrman as Alex Dall, an obsessive internally tortured athlete/college student. Alex Dall is a character who is much more aggressive
and self isolating. While still desperate for her peer’s approval, Alex has no tenderness to her personality at all, but is quick to emotionally react. Alex Dall was difficult and mean to everyone, unlike Sissy’s specific brand of sensitivity being the doormat to others until her rage builds and builds. 

What these characters also share in common is the persistent attempt to fill an emotional void, as that initial connection has been severed beyond repair when it was needed the most (I.e from parents or peers.) This leads to perpetual loneliness that can mimic hyper independence. In Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents, Lindsay C. Gibson writes,“Emotional neglect can make premature independence feel like a virtue. Many
people who were neglected as children don’t realize that their independence was a necessity, not a choice.”

Similar to these protagonists, people who have not recovered from childhood traumas or dysfunctional family systems will decide to withdraw because they cannot face the pain of potential rejection, ridicule, or abandonment again. Sissy
sticks to the loner lifestyle and she pretends to have these parasocial relationships with her followers, when in reality the loneliness has only added to her spiritual pain.

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Behind the Elon Mask

In reality, Cecilia didn't need social media or her followers to create a facade in Sissy. The need to hold up a veil has always been a tactic, IRL and in media.

bell hooks writes in all about love, “Intense spiritual and emotional lack in our lives is the perfect breeding ground for material greed and overconsumption. In a world without love, the passion to connect can be replaced with the passion to possess. While emotional needs are difficult, and often are impossible to satisfy, material desires are easier to fulfill.” (hooks, all about
love,1999)
Although hooks’ is referring to consumerism as fulfillment and in a time when social media didn’t really exist, this statement can still apply. Social media can fill the void of spirit like it did in Sissy, but this film is much more than the perils of influencer culture and social media. Our need to hide behind anything has always been the same; what's changed are the tools we use now to build up these walls. We create delusions or fake friendships in unhealthy ways, like May with her dolls, and in Cecilia’s case, she is skilled at being “transparent” but not “truthful” with her followers. Cecilia’s motivation to
“influence” is driven by both consumerism and avoidance.

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The Point of No Return

In Sissy, Cecilia is asked to drive the party van for the Hen’s weekend. She sits perked up in the front seat with Emma, in control, and it’s like she and Emma haven't skipped a beat. Sissy overhears that the group is staying with Alex Kutis for the weekend and Cecilia is back to that child she was before. When meeting Alex again years later,
Cecilia is getting her ship rocked. Her coping mechanisms, words of affirmations, breathing exercises, and her safety rope circle all stop working and this results in her down a path of self sabotage. All her “growth” has flown out the window and Cecilia is back to her doormat people pleaser self, worried about what others think of her.
Similarly to Cecilia, when we are met with conflict in our relationships, especially moments that trigger certain traumas, we retreat back to our old habits out of wanting to feel safe in some capacity or even just because old habits die hard. The intense fear of rejection is so strong that we retreat back to our childlike self and actively fight the
possibility of being “exposed” as sensitive or perhaps as a fraud.


Cecilia snaps. However, she doesn’t kill because it “feels right” or because she can’t control herself; this is damage control. Cecilia believes she has to protect her true self from being exposed, so her adult self joins forces with her unhealed inner child self. Unfortunately, there is not a brain cell or lick of common sense between any of these selves.

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I'm Real

Our real selves will always trigger those who choose to deny living in their own authenticity. At times, we are so traumatized out of who we are, that we can do nothing but adapt to the masks that we carry for years or even our entire lives. The protagonists of female rage and revenge films decide between living in their authenticity, as did May when she created her life-size best friend in the end. Some characters choose to live in their mask, as Sissy did after she frames Alex Kutis for the hen’s weekend massacre.
 

What’s interesting about Sissy is that she believes she’s chosen the former but the the audience knows she’s chosen the latter.
In her showdown with Emma, Cecilia gets real with her ex-best friend:
“You're the fucking monster! I mean, did you ever even really like me? Or did you just get some kind of like sick pleasure out of pitying me? You just care so much what people think about you. I can’t stand the thought that maybe someone might think you’re weird. They might know the real you. Might find out you have a heartbeat or feelings or a fucking soul. I’m real. And if that makes me a sissy, then so what?” (Sissy, 2022)

This is a show of self-acceptance. Sissy has let her traumatized self take over.

 

In this scene, Sissy vents how real she is and expresses her emotions unapologetically. Everyone else is a fraud, which has led to unjust actions done to her. In this monologue, Cecilia leans into her traumas and lets them define her actions, as she is not remorseful and even believes the others who have forced her into emotional repression, had it coming. Like Sissy, people would rather ruin every friendship connection, for good, all to avoid the exposure.

Sissy, Carrie, The Novice, and May present women who were once not afraid to feel easily and deeply. They had this bravery beaten out of them until they can’t distinguish where they begin and society ends. Like audiences, they go on a journey of self discovery that leaves them broken open to feel a range of sensations they’ve been denied their whole lives. Not knowing what to do to cope with inevitable conflict in relationships, triggers, or even accountability. These characters, like us, are left to make a choice of direction to go in: to grow or stay the same. The real horror is to have yourauthenticity so beaten out of you that there is nothing left to ever adapt into an emotionally ept individual.

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Palmira is an Afro-Boricua from The Bronx, by way of Orange County, CA. The UC Davis alum is a writer, (The Body Is Not an Apology, HipLatina) producer, (FANTI, We See Each Other Podcast, Black People Love Paramore) comedian (WhoHaha Comedy Call Out Summer 2021), and filmmaker (Manifestation.) A lover of horror since youth, Palmira is stepping into her own as an analytical expert in the female rage and revenge subgenres. She writes screenplays with these themes, but from the POV of a queer woman of color or woman of size — because woman’s rage should be all inclusive. 

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