Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
The Sisterhood of Night: Salem Comes to the Hudson Valley
parents ought to be thrilled when five teenage girls swear off Facebook and
social networking, but they react with the same suspicion and paranoia that
sweeps through their Hudson Valley hamlet. For reasons only they understand,
the girls refuse to explain themselves, leaving a void to be filled by the
worst high school and the digital era have to offer. The Salem witch hysteria
is revisited through the contemporary lens of cyber-stalking and conventional
school bullying in Caryn Waechter’s The
Sisterhood of Night (trailer
which opens this Friday in limited release.
retrospect, the pentagram-like insignia of the so-called Sisterhood of the
Night was probably a mistake. It just makes it too easy for those so inclined
to suggest they are some kind of satanic cult. Emily Parris will be their first
accuser. She always yearned for social acceptance and envied Mary Warren’s outsider
coolness. Unfortunately, when Warren starts recruiting members for her secret
society, she decidedly passes over the desperate Parris. Instead, she picks
unlikely candidates like Catherine Huang and Lavinia Hall.
the Sisterhood guards its secrets from the audience nearly as long as it does
from the easily manipulated citizens of Kingston, New York, it seems obvious
right from the start they are merely engaged in some ritualized forms of female
bonding. Yet again, their midnight initiation ceremonies in the woods are ripe
for willful misinterpretation. Hence, when Warren catches Parris enviously
spying on them, the shunned teen starts making wild accusations online. Her
blog quickly picks up followers, as she becomes a media sensation. Unfortunately,
the story soon snowballs out of control, especially when other students start
escalating the situation for their own amusement. Although their painfully
slow-on-the-uptake counselor Gordy Gambhir tries to get them to explain
themselves, the Sisterhood clings to their silence.
Sisterhood is far from perfect.
Waechter’s execution has its share of tonal issues, including a bizarrely upbeat
ending that seems more appropriate for an Up with People production. The
periodic if-I-had-only-known narration from Gambhir and Lavinia’s mother Rose
is often beyond heavy-handed. Yet, somehow none of that fatally detracts from
the totality of the film. For the most part, screenwriter Marilyn Fu’s
adaptation of Steven Millhauser’s short story is mysteriously allegorical, while
evoking a sense it is based on very real incidents. It captures the madness of
the media feeding frenzy, which has only been intensified by the internet, as
well as timeless crumminess of peer pressure and teen alienation.
young ensemble is also quite remarkable, starting with Narnia’s Georgie Henley, who is both fiercely intimidating and
nakedly vulnerable as Warren. Yet, Willa Cuthrell is even more poignant,
depicting Huang’s desperately confused responses to her family crisis. It is
downright painful watching Kara Hayward’s Parris trying too hard, but in a way
that is all too believable. Unfortunately, former Obama administration stone-waller
Kal Penn is embarrassingly awkward as Gambhir, the wannabe cool hipster. Can’t
we just send him back to White Castle?
Despite its zeitgeisty elements, Sisterhood taps into some deep
archetypes. There is something powerfully unsettling about its vision of human
natures, regardless of its closing musical flag-waving number. Recommended
warts-and-all as a cautionary fable, The
Sisterhood of Night opens this Friday (4/10) in select cities and launches
Labels: Movie cults