Secret circles have always been enthralling and a great source of inspiration in cinema. Probably for the extreme loyalty shared between members, keeping any outsiders in an opaque dark. On my mind there is of course, the Dead Poet Society or The Riot Club, both on different ends of the spectrum. But if these two features have something in common, it is the way they show adolescence in all its cruelty but also beauty. Our teenage years is this time in life when we feel awkward, incomplete and terribly alone at times, when so little can put us on top of the world or burry us deep down in the ground. What we actively seek is that someone, someone like us, who would truly understand what we are going through – emotionally, physically – when we feel like society, and especially family, around us doesn’t.
For #DirectedByWomen, I sat down and watched Caryn Waechter’s The Sisterhood of Night, a mix of secrecy and teenage craziness.
Mary (Georgie Henley), Lavinia (Olivia DeJongue) and Catherine (Willa Cuthrell-Tuttleman) are high school best friends. Together, they create the members-only Sisterhood, inspiring envy from girls, the Not-Chosen-Ones, like Emily. Eaten up by jealousy after being rejected, Emily (Kara Hayward) claims she was sexually abuse by the Sisterhood, unleashing the intrigue and a wave of mania around town.
At first, it is unclear what we’re dealing with. Bonfires, five-point stars, gloomy woods and milky moonlights. Witches, perhaps? Are we going to plunge into fantasy or stick with reality? Is it a modern remake of The Crucible? All along, the Sisterhood of Night bounces us around from one theory to another. But even if the film keeps us guessing, the truly fascinating side to this tale is how four teenage girls – then more – develop a friendship so pure it seems unbreakable and everlasting.
The hysteria and magic fog of the beginning slowly fade in the background, revealing a much more intimate and sincere storytelling. These moments of communion between these trusting girls, so tightly linked to one another, makes the heart and mind look back on childhood, remembering the infantile joy of just making a new and true friend. But the film also revives melancholy, reminding us of how badly we wanted to belong to the ‘Cool Kids’ clan and especially how frustrating, painful even it once felt to be the one who is intentionally left behind. With that in mind, The Sisterhood of Night refrains from pointing the finger at any bad guy, allowing its protagonists the right to make mistakes then make amend. Waechter is incredibly honest in the way she films female friendship, framing each of the character’s face with an unembellished and bold eye, rightfully capturing teens’ tenderness and vulnerability.
On the side, the film addresses a number of issues faced by youth nowadays: abuse, teenage suicide, bullying, violence – all of those themes dissolved into a heavy social media era – unfortunately, too superficially. Furthermore, The Sisterhood of Night tries to give dysfunctional parenting and the difficulties of intergenerational communication some on-screen time. Beyond female camaraderie, Waechter tackles the hardship of vertical relationships and interactions between mothers and daughters. These mothers’ portrayal isn’t perfect, and screenwriter Marilyn Fu doesn’t shy away from writing their very own insecurities and flaws: the first has a drinking problem, the other is overprotective and dates in order to fill a gap, and the last one, hospitalized, is totally unaware of her daughter’s inner struggles. All are one way or another disconnected from the transitional stage their daughters, Mary, Lavinia and Catherine are experiencing. Yet, each pair embrace trauma and try moving forward.
All in all, The Sisterhood of Night is a hard candy of a film, sour on the outside but sweet once the surface gone. Although it could have been fizzier and sparkled a little more in the mouth, it is an intelligent enough exploration of the depth and incredible potential of human bonds, particularly between female characters.
by Marie-Célia Cannenpasse
Marie-Célia is from a French Caribbean island, and currently studying applied foreign languages at Sorbonne University in Paris, whilst taking filmmaking courses online. She enjoys listening to soundtracks curled up under a comfy duvet on rainy days, gushing about Kate Winslet or Christian Bale on a daily basis, and crying over the BBC’s adaptation of War and Peace. Her favourite films include Gone with the wind, Super 8, Call me by your name and The Prestige. You can find her on Twittter @MCeliaCR and on letterboxd too @MCeliaCR.