Director: Caryn Waechter
Cast: Georgie Henley, Kara Hayward, Kal Penn, Willa Cuthrell-Tuttleman, Olivia DeJonge, Laura Fraser
Running Time: 104 minutes
Based on a short story by Steven Millhauser, THE SISTERHOOD OF NIGHT is a contemporary retelling of the Salem Witch Trials that focuses on the beneficial and destructive capabilities of our social-media culture. The modern-day focus allows for director Caryn Waechter to create strong, interesting, and morally conflicted characters that keep us interested throughout the film, even when the film itself starts to lose its own narrative.
The film follows two high school girls: Mary (Georgie Henley), the popular girl to which everyone is envious of, and Emily (Kara Hayward) a quiet, self-reserved girl living delusions of grandeur through her social media presence. Mary and her group band together to form the titular Sisterhood, a group that gathers deep in the woods after dark. But when Emily attempts to expose the group’s illicit actions through her blog, their actions create a frenzy throughout their small-town. Gossip, social media, and classic high-school rivalry fuel the search for the truth: that being what is the Sisterhood?
While this might seem like a fairly large-scale story, Waechter is smart to keep the film focuses on characters rather than the outside world. The film has a slow pace that allows for strong character development, peppering the film with various scenes of teenage empowerment early on in order to strengthen the tension these characters will later face. None of this would work if it wasn’t for the strong performances from Georgie Henley and Kara Hayward, two young actresses who we haven’t seen play darker roles like this before. Once the metaphorical witch-hunts begin both of these characters serve as a beautiful contrast, as the lines that once separated them begins to blur. Mary becomes more reserved as her friends begin to walk away, while Emily begins to start acting more like Mary as her own social-media Sisterhood backs her. Henley and Hayward have strong chemistry together, however this sometimes hurts the film as it leave one wishing the had more scenes together.
SISTERHOOD is a film that is fairly hard to define by genre, as it feels like a cross between MEAN GIRLS and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, yet it is not a horror and drama. However what we end up with is an incredibly stylistic film. Waechter uses the natural setting of Kingston, New York to create a visually striking film, with a sense of dread looming over every shot. There is a documentary narrative device used throughout the film to foreshadow the outcome that adds to this style, but might have worked better if used a bit more sparingly.
Yet it does feel as if the film loses focus half-way through. Too many sub-plots and side characters are introduced that draw away from the core conflict. While these sub-plots are not bad per-se, a side plot involving Kal Penn’s guidance councilor is very interesting, but introduced too late – they add very little to the overall film. If anything, the film itself feels a little bloated, especially towards the middle, and only serves to remind how strong the two main characters are.
THE SISTERHOOD OF NIGHT is a film that throws a lot of ideas out there for you to think about, but not all of them stick. Some questions are left unanswered, but it never seemed interested in answering them in the first place. What we are left with is an interesting film that uses it fantastic leads in order to comment on the how life can and is impacted by social communications, and the implications it has on art and friendship. While not perfect, SISTERHOOD does what great films strive to do: leaves one thinking about it once it is over, especially for someone in teenage/young adult age range.
[usr 4] – THE SISTERHOOD OF NIGHT is released in limited theaters and VOD on April 10.