Monday, August 24, 2015

The Teencible

Man am I glad to have been a teenager before the internet onslaught took full control over our lives. Sure, I visited my share of chat rooms and probably conversed with at least a few potential serial killers at some point in my youth, but whispers of Friendster didn't explode until college, and Tom of MySpace didn't become my pal until I had my first real apartment.

I am thankful for this.

As I believe we have all now agree, the internet is a super duper thing. It opens our world up to writing and friendship from across the globe. Heck, it lets me justify spending hours upon hours watching and analyzing movies like Criminal Passion because, you know, maybe somebody out there wants to read what I had to say about it. Without the internet, I'd just be a very sad woman.

I bring this up today not to ponder what I'd be doing if I couldn't write thousands of words about sleazy '90s erotic thrillers, but because today's film of choice does such a thoughtful job in putting millenial culture tics in view. Sisterhood of the Night is essentially a modern spin on The Crucible, but it's successfully explored through the eyes of a 21st century teenage girl.

Basically, it just makes me really glad I wasn't writing status updates in 9th grade. Because they would have been TERRIBLE.

Quick Plot: Mary is a 15-year-old high school student who inadvertently makes an enemy out of classmate Emily, a religious girl who retaliates by spilling some of Mary's secrets via her personal blog. Before you can shout "I saw Goody Goode with the devil," Mary is calling Emily a blog whore (which I guess is the 2015 translation of "you're a virgin who can't drive"), recusing herself from all social media, and starting her own secret club, The Sisterhood.

Nobody knows what The Sisterhood does, but that couldn't possibly stop the student body, faculty, and PTA from wildly speculating. Mary recruits a few more classmates, including the moody Catherine, who's uncomfortably dealing with her mother's cancer, and the shy Lavinia, who's uncomfortably dealing with her divorced mother's dating habits. All the while, Emily scowls from afar.

One night, Emily follows the girls deep into the woods to watch their mysterious ritual. Mary spots her, though the film doesn't quite show us what happens next. According to Emily, Mary and the girls are sexually touching each other and assault Emily, who proceeds to blog about the experience and publicly accuse The Sisterhood during Sunday mass.

Set in a small upstate town of Kingston, NY, The Sisterhood of Night is based on a short story by the wonderful Steven Millhauser, a Pulitzer Prize winning author who writes with a wonderful style of fantasy, humor, and Americana. The film itself feels a little more serious than most of his writing that I'm familiar with, but the overall style--grand bombastic music that overdramatizes the action--actually works rather brilliantly. When you're a 16 year old girl, this is kind of how life feels.

The filmmaking team here knows that, perhaps because refreshingly, they were indeed once 16 year old girls. Screenwriter Marilyn Fu and first-time director Caryn Waechter demonstrate a clear understanding of what it means to be an adolescent female dealing with a world that by most accounts, ain't so bad but by, again, adolescent female accounts, is an eternal nightmare. The pair apparently met at film school and funded the film through crowd sourcing. Clearly, there was indeed an audience that needed a story like this. 

The young actresses are rather incredible at finding the right notes. As the mysterious Mary, Georgie Henley (whom you might recognize as the youngest of the Narnia siblings) projects that kind of ethereal charisma that makes you want her to like you, or to at least know your name. Moonrise Kingdom's Kara Hayward plays the petty Emily with a great combination of earnestness and entitlement, and Willa Cuthrell finds just the right balance between selfish bitterness and wounded vulnerability as Catherine. 

Where The Sisterhood of Night comes up a tad short is in its adults. While I give Kal Penn's well-meaning guidance counselor a lot of bonus points for using the Beatles-based Still Life With Woodpecker version of a Rorsacht test, the rest of the parents are a little more simplistic in their reactions. Perhaps that's the point. From a teenager's eyes, adults simply can't understand the situation and ultimately belong outside of it.

High Points
Clearly there's a lot I loved about this film, but to narrow it to one, I'll go with the overall style and aesthetic. Serious teenage cinema is sometimes impossible to do well because it risks being dated to its young audience or seeming alien to its older one. Between its score, performances, and general look, The Sisterhood of Night manages to nail a very particular style that manages to feel both young and wise. It's no easy feat.

Low Points
Look, I'm human and alcohol may have compromised some of my memory cells but c'mon: how am I supposed to keep it straight that a character is named the uncommon name Lavinia, but it's her mother who's played by an actress (Laura Fraser) who once played a character named Lavinia in Julie Taymor's film adaptation of Titus. Just TYPING that made me want another drink

Lessons Learned
The w is silent in whore

George Harrison knew how to keep his secrets

Fatal Attraction is a popular film among the high school youth of 21st century America

Stray Observations Of a Nerdish Note
Though inspired by Arthur Miller and based on work by Steven Millhauser, the writer's voice I thought of the most during The Sisterhood of Night is Megan Abbot. For those unfamiliar, Abbot has written several rather brilliant novels that focus on teenage girls, including Dare Me (a dark saga of ambitious cheerleaders) and The Fever (a mystery/thriller about high school students suffering Crucible-like bouts of hysteria). If you enjoyed The Sisterhood of Night, I cannot recommend Abbot's canon highly enough. She's sort of a Gillian Flynn by way of Mean Girls, but way more awesome than that description sounds. 

As is often the case here at The Doll's House, the more I start to write -- or dare I say it, BLOG -- about a film, the more I tend to enjoy it. The Sisterhood of Night isn't perfect, but it has such a strong, needed voice behind it deserves to be seen. We don't get enough female-created content on our screens, so of course it's nice to see something so estrogen infused. What's even better is when said product is actually good. 


  1. Sounds interesting.
    Also sounds very similar to something that happened here locally involving a bunch of (older) female poets... secret cabals and bizarre accusations. It's definitely going on the Watch list!

    1. I'll be really curious to hear what you think after you watch it!

  2. This movie sounds really good! I'll have to track it down. Thanks for bringing attention to it, Emily!

    By the way, you know how there've been a million and a half resurrection dramas recently, all seeming to spring out thanks to that They Came Back book, that became the movie, then the TV series? Well there's an Australian one now too! It's called Glitch, for reasons presently unknown, and I'm halfway through. It's quite interesting so far, and certainly not drawn out at only six episodes long.

    1. Remember that pilot for the "zombies come back to life" show with Ray Stevenson that never got picked up about 10 years ago? I think it was called Babylon or something. So strange how quickly the tides turned!

    2. Yeah, Babylon Fields. It's getting a remake too, apparently (it's been mentioned for a while, but nothing's happened yet). Funny how thing turn out!

    3. And I think back to all those sleepovers where I'd bring Dawn of the Dead, and my friends would roll their eyes, and now they're all the same people posting Walking Dead spoilers every week.

    4. Man, as a kid, I would have literally killed to see Dawn of the Dead! People are strange!

      I'll have a review of Glitch posted in a few hours if you're interested.