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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

The Sisterhood of Night movie review: bitch hunt

The Sisterhood of Night green light

There are no cartoon Mean Girls here; instead, we get striking portraits of girls in pain, desperately grasping for coping mechanisms.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

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.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of The Sisterhood of Night for its representation of girls and women.

green light 3.5 stars

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The Sisterhood of Night (2015)
US/Can release: Apr 10 2015 (VOD same day)

MPAA: rated PG-13 for mature thematic content involving sexuality, prescription drugs, suicide, teen abuse, and for some language

viewed on my iPad

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • Steve Gagen

    Love the review, as ever – but I am one with Mr Chipps in pulling you up over the expression “very loosest”. As the venerable schoolmaster says numerous times in the film “You cannot qualify superlatives”!

  • Bluejay

    “You cannot qualify a superlative”!

    Why not? You can’t just leave it there; the very least you can do is explain. And I’m feeling rather impatient, so you must explain it at the very earliest opportunity. I’m sure you’ll do a good job of it; I expect nothing but the very best from you. ;-)

  • I’ve written lots of things that are not grammatically correct. Poetic license!

  • Steve Gagen

    My apologies, Bluejay – writing is a bit fiddly on a phone,
    so you’ve had to wait till I can get to a computer.

    In the film “Goodbye Mr Chips”, ‘Mr Chips’ (Arthur Chipping) – a pedantic schoolmaster – marries the bubbly Katherine Briggs. Along the road to humanising the very proper Latin scholar, the following interchange takes

    Katherine: Your grammar is too perfect.
    Chips: You cannot qualify a superlative.

    It’s a wonder she stayed after that!

    On the question of whether you CAN qualify a superlative,
    you will find a lot of stuff in Wikipedia to answer that question. It’s a little like splitting infinitives: Latin and Greek scholars pointed out that this was impossible in the Classics, so should not be permitted in English. So Star
    Trek should have said “to go boldly where no man has gone before” rather than “to boldly go where no man has gone before”.

    Seeing as MaryAnn had boldly chosen to qualify the superlative “loosest” with the adverb “very”, I felt obliged to play Chips to her Katherine, just for sport!

  • Steve Gagen

    Any more of this sort of loose grammar and they’ll take your poetic licence away for good!

  • Bluejay

    I was just being playful with my comment, which included a lot of qualified superlatives. But I appreciate that you took the time to answer seriously. :-)

    Language changes. I am of the opinion that language should be allowed to evolve (which will happen anyway, whether or not we approve) rather than be held to what was possible or impossible in classical Latin.

  • LaSargenta

    Seems like Mr. Chips was yet another pedantic follower of those determined to imprison the English language in Latin chains. Latin and Greek have different conjugation rules, so one cannot apply both of them to anything simultaneously. To my knowledge, it was Latin structure that was being held aloft as a standard and, in addition, not the best Latin. It was not Ovid, whch flowed well, but an odd mix of Ciceronian (very complex) and Mediaeval (rather debased in England which often refused to respect the scholarship and preservation by the Irish).

    In any case, Latin grammer should be irrelevant to the English language as it is a complex and rich tongue with roots in many cultures. Foolish and bigoted schoars in the previous centuries claimed the Normans brought Latin grammar; Normans brought their scribes and clerks who recorded everything on the ‘official’ French. Normans did not speak that French in daily use and the daily use of (old) English did not go away, only the writing of Old English for legal documents did.

  • LaSargenta

    English has been evolving. It also has been harvesting words and ideas from other languages all along. But, real English never had Latinesque grammar.

  • Steve Gagen

    I never said it did. And I brought up the example of the split infinitive to show how absurd it is to apply rules from one language to another. You really can’t split an infinitive in Latin, but you can and should in English.

  • Steve Gagen

    I should have thought it was fairly obvious that I was not a supporter of the views of the curmudgeonly Mr Chips (as he was in the period before he fell under the spell of the lovely Katherine) by my quoting:

    Katherine: Your grammar is too perfect.
    Chips: You cannot qualify a superlative.

    And observing “It’s a wonder she stayed after that!”
    Under Katherine’s softening influence, Chips becomes a much-loved teacher, and stops worrying about superlatives and infinitives! It is a beautiful story – even as told by Peter O’Toole and Petula Clark in the 1969 film version.

  • LaSargenta

    I got that you were kidding; that’s why I included my closing statement about “even in jest”. I just hate this particular error so much that I don’t want to even be reminded of it as a joke. It epitomises to me everything wrong with a certain kind of cultural hegemony and pigheaded intellectual game playing that only deserves to be treated with contempt.

    At one time, I knew a professor of Modern History (in the British sense…so it stopped around the Crimean War) who loved to go on and on about the horrible Americans killing members of the Aboriginal Nations. He refused to acknowledge that the same thing was being done in Canada by British citizens nor would he even entertain my retort to him that Manifest Destiny was White Man’s Burden in other clothes. He also liked to claim that English should follow Latin-esque grammar rules. He was deeply, determinedly ignorant and, yet, he held a professorship.

    Personally, I prefer the Robert Donat/Greer Garson version. ;-) Less singing, more puns.

  • Danielm80

    Does that mean we’re living in Post-Modern History? That would explain a lot—especially if the Dadaists are still in charge.

  • LaSargenta

    Perhaps…since it seems everyone these days is one kind of a semiotician or another.

    As my great-godmother used to say, “it is a weak and wicked age that looks for signs!”

  • David

    There was some good stuff in this but I found it overblown and melodramatic. I had to chase it by re-watching Heathers.

  • What was overblown?

    Please show your work by comparing and contrasting your experiences as a teenaged girl.

    (Hint: I was once a teenaged girl, and this movie is pretty spot on.)

  • David

    The directing style was melodramatic. I counted a good 15 minutes of random shots of trees and shadows that I guess was supposed to be profound.

  • Is that really “overblown,” though?

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