Director: Caryn Waechter
Writer: Marilyn Fu, Steven Millhauser (short story)
Producers: Elizabeth Cuthrell, Lydia Dean Pilcher
Starring: Georgie Henley, Kara Hayward, Willa Cuthrell-Tuttleman, Olivia DeJonge, Kal Penn, Laura Fraser
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 104 min.
The current crop of YA movies may be, for the most part, burning up the box office but the majority of them don’t feature regular, everyday kids dealing with regular, everyday problems. Yes, the messages are mostly positive but how likely is it that a girl will have to save the world from the grips of a power hungry leader with her bow and arrow?
The easy thing to do is chalk The Sisterhood of Night up to modern retelling of the Salem witch trials and it certainly is that but it’s also far more. Based on a short story from Pulitzer Prize winning author Steven Millhauser and adapted by Marilyn Fu, the story takes the concept of the witch trials and sets it in today’s highschool world complete with the perils of social media.
The grown-up Georgie Henley (of The Chronicles of Narnia fame) stars as Mary Warren, an artistic and largely independent teen girl who, after a couple of run ins with an attention hungry Emily Parris (Moonrise Kingdom’s Kara Hayward) decides to take a break from social media. She updates Facebook one last time and then turns her attention to real world connections. The teen soon befriends a pair of other girls and the trio begin the Sisterhood of Night, a by invitation-only club that sees girls getting together in the middle of the night in the woods and what they do there soon becomes the centre of a scandal.
As the sisterhood grows, the school starts to buzz and all the girls want an invite and Emily, determined to either join them or out them, has a confrontation with the sisterhood, lies about it on her website, acting as catalyst for panic. The parents don’t know what the sisterhood is about, the members of the sisterhood won’t share details of their meetings and Emily and her clique, determined to stay at the centre of the media attention, begin to circle stories about satanism, witchcraft and even sexual abuse.
It all sounds like your run-of-the-mill thriller but The Sisterhood of Night shines in large part because of its frank and surprisingly level headed approach to how teenagers deal with pressure. Some run and fall prey to their peers while others stick their ground even when it doesn’t make any sense to do so. The Sisterhood of Night isn’t cynical but instead offers a story of young women finding their way in a complicated world and coming to terms with themselves and each other.
The Sisterhood of Night hits on some deeply intimate and troubling issues and director Caryn Waechter handles the issues and the changing mood of the film with great care. It may begin as a thriller but the movie slowly morphs into an affecting drama about teenage girls finding their way. Few things mark Waechter’s beautiful and careful direction than the scenes of girls sneaking out – coming and going from their secret meetings. In the first half of the movie, the scenes play out like something out of a horror movie but in the second half, Waechter and cinematographer Zak Mulligan film those same scenes in such a way that they capture the thrill, freedom and happiness of those moments.
So many teen movies get at the positive message by having one girl cut down another but The Sisterhood of Night avoids that narrative, highlighting instead the power of friendship, understanding and self worth. It’s so rare to see a movie that is so positive without being clichéd that it feels a bit shocking that The Sisterhood of Night exists at all and hence all the more reason to celebrate it.
The Sisterhood of Night, particularly in its final act, is heartbreaking but like life, it’s also beautiful and joyous and celebrates the energy and resilience of youth.
The Sisterhood of Night opens in theatres and VOD on Friday, April 10th.