Don’t call what happens in this subtle drama of noxious female adolescence a witch hunt. It’s not that, except perhaps in the very loosest, most metaphoric sense; though grownups here worry about satanism and cult-like behavior among the kids, this is not a horror movie. The Sisterhood of Night is, rather, a bitch hunt of the sort that only teenaged girls can get up to.
But who is the “bitch” here? Is it Emily Parris (Kara Hayward: Moonrise Kingdom), who shames her fellow high-schooler Mary Warren (Georgie Henley: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) by posting to a blog stolen secrets of Mary’s? Or is it Mary, who retaliates by taking an online “vow of silence,” swearing off social media and replacing her need to share with her peers by forming The Sisterhood, to which she invites only a chosen few, including Catherine Huang (Willa Cuthrell: Dan in Real Life) and Lavinia Hall (Olivia DeJonge). What does The Sisterhood actually get up to? None of its few members are talking… and it seems that in our culture of oversharing, not oversharing is a huge crime. All the kids not in The Sisterhood are enraged at being kept in the dark, and all the adults are worried. And then Emily posts some more salacious secrets about Mary and The Sisterhood, and all hell (of a nonsupernatural kind) breaks loose based on nothing but supposition and rumor. Has perfectly normal adolescent rebellion — and the perfectly human desire for secrets and privacy — being misinterpreted as something immoral and even evil? Or is something truly sinister going on?
There are no cartoon Mean Girls here; instead, we get striking portraits of girls in pain, just the normal pain of growing up, desperately grasping for coping mechanisms in a world in which raw exposure is mistaken for intimacy while true closeness and trust are difficult to nurture yet so necessary. Finely drawn yet surprisingly brutal, this is an impressive feature debut from director Caryn Waechter and screenwriter Marilyn Fu (working from a short story by Steven Millhauser) that treats the inner lives of teenaged girls with the sort of insight and respect that we don’t often see onscreen.