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#52filmsbywomen 6 – The Sisterhood Of Night

Posted on: March 13, 2016

No. 6 – The Sisterhood Of Night (Caryn Waechter, 2014)

sisterhood

The Sisterhood Of Night has a dreamy, ethereal tone that I would have eaten up as a teenage girl. Unfortunately, I’m old as balls now, so I couldn’t help being shaken out of reverie by the occasional spotty moments. But I would still mark this down as a sweet film for teenagers to watch, one of those noble attempts of filmmakers to understand and depict contemporary teenage girls, but there’s something elusive and ephemeral about those girls, something that’s nearly impossible to capture with any accuracy. By the time you think you have them figured out, they’ve grown up and gone, and the next group appear with a new language and set of references and dreams. The Sisterhood Of Night does an honourable job, and yet something is missing. Which, for a film which attempts to do SO much, is a shame.

The film is told in a mix of flashbacks and faux-documentary talking heads, in a way that is slightly muddled and confusing. It dives right into the battlegrounds of social media, where so many other films are reluctant to engage, because Robert McKee doesn’t explain how in Story. (Start noticing how many films involving someone losing / forgetting / breaking their mobile phone early on in a plot that would be easily solved with a quick call, and prepare to be infuriated by many, many horrors films and thrillers of the past fifteen years.) The film initially sets up a rivalry between Emily, a lonely blogger desperate to be part of the in-crowd, and Mary, an intriguing and charismatic student who decides to go quiet on social media. Mary then decides to start a secret society of girls, selected by invitation, with an aim that isn’t immediately clear. Emily follows the group out one night, and later writes a blog post outlining the abuse she suffers at the Sisterhood’s hands, starting something akin to a witchhunt that escalates throughout the town. The Sisterhood are sworn to secrecy, so refuse to comment, adding fuel to the fire.

At this point, the different story threads spiral out like a hydra, and never quite come together. A society of isolated teenagers echoes Joyce Carol Oates’ Foxfire (beautifully filmed by Laurent Cantet in 2012). The mass hysteria surrounding the group recalls The Falling by Carol Morley (which I’ll be watching within the next few weeks). Emily and Mary’s rivalry recalls any number of teen films. Other, more minor strands would have been an interesting primary forcus – Emily’s blog compels other girls to open up about the abuse they have suffered, Lavinia is vexed by her mother’s dating activities and her own emergent sexuality (she borrows a copy of The Joy Of Sex, a book which has not been read since 1976 but nice try, set designers) and is then brutally catfished by her schoolfriends, Catherine refuses to visit her sick mother since she lost her hair, school councillor Gordo Gambhir’s attempts to reach out to the Sisterhood led to him losing his job over a perceived inappropriate relationship with Mary. Any one of these storylines would have a place as the A story in a hammy after-school special, or a touching indie film. It is almost a shame to have them as such small plot points. The Sisterhood Of Night suffers from too many ideas and too much ambition – and that is an honourable way to fail.

But The Sisterhood Of Night has some unique aspects to it as well. This is a rare – and non-judgemental – depiction of a religious community. While it feeds into the mass panic, the focus is more on how the town is tightly-knit and aware of each other’s business, rather than mocking the theists. Likewise, it walks a fine line in the depiction of female sexuality. While Lavinia is shamed and mocked for her desires, the film treats her with more dignity – most films view as a cause for punishment, or the most emotional, moving moment of a woman’s life, and both are equally unrealistic interpretations. Mary’s relationship, another minor thread in the film, is treated sincerely but as an afterthought. She loses her virginity on her terms, and is happy with her decision, which remains private. Throughout the film, privacy and silence is a revolutionary act, particularly in a world of noise, where nothing goes unnoticed or unread by the people around you, and that itself is refreshing.

 

 

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