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At first glance, it would be easy to assume that The Sisterhood of Night is a horror film. Depicting the wave of Salem Witch Trial-style hysteria that consumes a small upstate New York town where a group of teenage girls are accused of committing demonic acts in the woods late at night, Caryn Waechter‘s debut feature is instead a piercing portrait of adolescent rebellion and alienation. For younger audiences, its scariest aspect will be the plot element in which the titular trio takes themselves, gasp, offline.
The Sisterhood is led by Mary (Georgie Henley, whose fierce eyes do at times suggest something sinister), with the other members being her friends Catherine (Willa Cuthrell) and Lavinia (Olivia De Jonge). While Mary remains something of an enigma, we learn intimate details about the other two: Catherine is dealing with the pain of her mother dying of cancer, while Lavinia, whose parents are divorced, is dismayed by her mother’s constant stream of boyfriends.
When Mary decrees that the group take themselves off Facebook, it produces an inevitable reaction of befuddled incomprehension among their peers. Attracting further interest is their habit of secret nocturnal gatherings deep in the woods, with the meetings signaled only by tiny pieces of paper containing cryptic symbols.
Mary’ chief nemesis is Emily (Kara Hayward), an insecure blogger forever fretting about the small number of readers she attracts. In an effort to stir up controversy, she begins attacking the Sisterhood on her blog, accusing them of committing diabolical acts. The paranoia spreads, with the close-knit community soon instigating a witch hunt in which the group is accused by several young girls of such acts as sexual molestation and Satanism, with the furor further fueled by lurid dramatizations on the local media.
Adapted from a short story by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Stephen Millhauser, the film delivers an insightful portrait of the internecine strife so endemic to adolescence and the helpless reactions of the confused adults in their midst. The latter is exemplified by the school’s good-natured, well-meaning guidance counselor (Kal Penn) who finds himself unable to get to the bottom of his students’ mysterious ways. Attempting to form a connection with one of the girls, he asks, “Who’s your favorite Beatle?” That she actually has an answer is but one of the example of the film’s constant ability to surprise.
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Confusingly withholding several key plot elements and motivations until its final minutes, The Sisterhood of Night doesn’t fully live up to its promise, with its themes never quite coming into focus. But along the way it presents a vivid depiction of teen angst that feels far realer than the usual exploitive Hollywood treatment.
Production: Cine Mosaic, Deep Forest Productions, Evenstar Films, Galatafilm
Cast: Georgie Henley, Kara Hayward, Willa Cuthrell, Olivia DeJonge, Kal Penn, Laura Fraser, Gary Wilmes, Neal Huff, Morgan Turner
Director: Caryn Waechter
Screenwriter: Marilyn Fu
Producers: Lydia Dean Pilcher, Elizabeth Cuthrell
Executive producers: David Urrutia, Steven Tuttleman, Taha Altayli
Director of photography: Zak Mulligan
Production designer: Kay Lee
Editor: Aaron Yanes
Costume designer: Jenna Kautzky
Composers: The Crystal Method, Tobias Enhus
Casting: Laura Rosenthal
Rated PG-13, 104 min.
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