Despite the title, spooky cover, and synopsis (ARE OUR TEENS IN A WITCH SEX CULT? HAVE GAYS BURGLED BRITAIN’S SWANS?) this is not a horror film. It isn’t an update of The Craft, although in some ways its atmosphere is reminiscent of that movie. It’s a modern riff on The Crucible–the Deadly Doll called it “The Teencible“–based on a short story by notable male mammal and odd duck Stephen Millhauser.
And it’s also the closest fictional depiction I can think of to what it was like to be in Riot Grrrl. It’s a touching, melodramatic, genuinely beautiful story of teenage girls coming together to share their secrets, finding in one another a haven from a hostile, consumerist, image-obsessed, misogynist and sex-crazed world. Like, I cried.
Also, it includes the glorious graffiti, EMILY PARRIS IS A BLOG WHORE.
The two lead girls are terrific, swan-necked hypnotic Georgie Henley as Mary Warren and low-voiced angry Willa Cuthrell as Catherine Huang. It’s written by Marilyn Fu and directed by Caryn Waechter, and both the dialogue and the direction are so committed to that apocalyptic teenage mindset, where you’re always either trapped or exultant. The music is important the way pop music is important to teens. The sun is a kind of glowing, golden, edge-of-adulthood sun you’ll never see again. There are great images: a girl in a white fur coat and her best friend dressed as a golden “David Bowie bird,” doing an extremely silly arm-waving dance on a suburban street, you’ll tear up. Repeated shots of girls throwing their hands in the air to dance–there’s so much dancing in this movie–or lowering them, ceremonially, to hold one another. Ah, this movie just worked for me on every level, from start to finish. There are smart explorations of the way the Internet can trap some of us and liberate others. The Sisterhood uses silence and secrecy to bind themselves to one another–one of the very first things that happens is that a girl dramatically leaves Facebook!–but isolated girls outside the Sisterhood find their own solace in speaking out. The portrayal of forgiveness and women’s solidarity is a relief after The Craft‘s more ferocious outlook.
There are things Sisterhood doesn’t do that I wish it had done, and the fact that it didn’t do them says unpleasant things about our culture. This would have been a stronger movie if it had a Tituba figure, for example. Why not make the charismatic, mysterious, tenderhearted girl leader black, and let that affect how she’s viewed and treated by others? There are also two spoilerous major issues that are explicitly raised throughout the movie, and we’re led to believe that the Sisterhood might have been personally affected by them, but in the end it turns out no, none of the main characters were actually [spoilers]. Those choices seem to make Mary, especially, an “Everygirl”–but one thing I learned in Riot Grrrl is that there’s no such thing.