Jennifer Reeder’s latest is a singular and unreal experience.
The abuser defies convention. Even if you tried to squeeze Jennifer Reeder’s latest horror outing into a tidy box, it would just ooze out, much like the blood that seeps into (almost) every scene.
This blood comes in many forms: nosebleeds, periods, gaping wounds. It stains teeth, leaks through dressings, and coagulates in thick, swelling puddles. Yet despite those unsettling tactile visuals, Perpetrator doesn’t treat blood as a source of horror. Instead, blood is power, blood is untapped potential, blood is even a source of salvation. We quickly realize that the real horror of Perpetrator lies in the threats young women face to their bodily autonomy, a theme the film shares with another 2023 Shudder release, Birth/Rebirth of Laura Moss.
To drive this point home, the director opens Perpetrator with a scene of an unknown assailant kidnapping a teenage girl named Evelyn. The masked assailant brings her to his lair, puts her to sleep and binds her, and tells her things are going to get worse. “Girls like you don’t know what they’ve got until it’s gone,” he grumbles before the credits — a gritty montage of surgical instruments and blood — kick in. .
The darkness of this sequence may make you think that Perpetrator is about to veer into torture porn territory, or into a straightforward thriller where people try to hunt down the suspect. But that couldn’t be further from what Reeder offers. Perpetrator coasts through genres and influences, dancing from coming-of-age to noir to different flavors of horror without missing a beat. The apparent lack of cohesion gives Perpetrator a surreal quality – similar to what we saw in Reeder’s 2019 feature debut Knives and Skin – delivering a singular viewing experience with feminist horror sensibilities that will linger under your skin. .
What is the author talking about?
As Perpetrator begins with the kidnapping of Evelyn, Reeder quickly transitions from her destiny to the film’s protagonist Jonny (Kiah McKirnan), whom we meet as she commits a burglary to help her father make ends meet. However, that’s not the end of his troubles. Jonny has never met his mother, she is prone to strange nosebleeds and she is about to celebrate her eighteenth birthday. The latter may not mean anything to her yet, but it does for her dad, who reveals in a troubled phone call that something big will happen to her when she turns 18 – and he’s not equipped to. deal. (This issue might have something to do with the fact that every time he looks in a mirror, his face ripples and changes into someone else’s.)
As his birthday approaches, Jonny goes to live with someone who is equipped to deal with this mysterious change: his aunt Hildie (Alicia Silverstone). Emerging from his big house in ensembles of black coats and furs, Silverstone exudes a delightful stone-cold sorcery that immediately clashes with Jonny’s rebellious teenage energy. Intimidating, stern, and just the right amount of fun, Hildie feels like a cross between Morticia Addams and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’s Aunt Zelda. When Silverstone appears, Perpetrator is truly crossing into some weird territory.
Silverstone exudes a delicious, stone-cold sorcery that immediately clashes with Jonny’s rebellious teenage energy.
For all her quirks, Hildie is far from the only quirk in Jonny’s life. Beyond the known physical changes that come with adolescence, she struggles with some wild bodily abnormalities, like her aforementioned nosebleeds and their bond with other people, and the fact that, according to her school nurse, she might possibly have multiple cores. Hildie guides Jonny through these changes, revealing that each woman in his family develops a particular hyper-empathy on their eighteenth birthday. She calls it the Forevering, describing it as “reverse possession.”
Perpetrator never explains all the details of Forevering to us, but that’s not necessary. Body language mimicry, changing faces, and creepy unison dialogue get the point across easily (and creepily). More importantly, Forevering marks Jonny’s official transition to adulthood. Think of it as a sort of unearthly second puberty where Jonny will once again learn about his changing body.
Perpetrator Horror is all about bodily autonomy.
As Jonny learns more about Forevering, Reeder blends his supernatural coming-of-age story with slasher movie beats. The girls at Jonny’s new school have been missing for a while now, hunted down and abducted by the masked man from the opening sequence. For most of the film, Reeder leaves the abuser’s violence to his victims a mystery, allowing our imaginations to run wild with fear.
This ever-present threat also hangs over the town and the school, to the point where concerned principal Burke (Chris Lowell) holds mandatory self-defense classes for his female students. Unfortunately, he gives them the worst advice ever, stoking paranoia and instilling a culture of victim blaming. “Danger lurks around every corner! he proclaims. “Your survival depends on you and only on you. »
While Principal Burke and his school don’t offer the same gory scares as Aunt Hildie and the Foreverings, Reeder immerses the school environment in his own kind of surrealism. A particularly deranged and graphic school shooting exercise results in some of the film’s funniest and unsettling dialogue. “My parents are going to slaughter me for being killed,” complains a new classmate of Jonny’s. It’s one of many lines that would be right at home in Heathers – a classic teen dark comedy that feels like a solid point of comparison thanks to Jonny’s outcast status and connection to a trio of popular girls. (Reeder draws from an eclectic group of cinematic references, including The Silence of the Lambs and Spartacus.)
The purposeful weirdness of Jonny’s high school shows how weird it is to grow up in a time characterized by fear of losing control of your body and dealing with attacks. But as Jonny teams up with fellow outcast Elektra (Ireon Roach) to track down the town’s kidnapper, these topical worries become a source of community connection. Jonny’s own powers of empathy deepen this connection even further, resulting in some legitimately cathartic moments.
Perpetrator’s catharsis comes not just from its timely plot and themes, but from the way it wields its cinematic form. Thanks to Reeder’s direction with Justin Krohn’s editing, Sevdije Kastrati’s cinematography and a score by Nick Zinner of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the film’s mishmash of tone, genre and influences is confusing but refreshing, too. wilder than its young protagonists when given a chance to just be themselves. Also refreshing is to see Silverstone in such a role; not only is her performance a lot of fun, but the cast feels like a teen movie torch passing from classics like Clueless to something more contemporary and demented.
With all of these conflicting ingredients, it’s amazing that Perpetrator comes together, let alone in such a chilling and freeing way. It’s reminiscent of the bloody cake Hildie serves Jonny for his 18th birthday: tempting, weird, and something you just have to sink your teeth into.
Perpetrator was seen again in its North American premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. It hits Shudder on September 1.(opens in a new tab)
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‘Perpetrator’ review: Alicia Silverstone reaches surreal heights in this gory, feminist horror flick – Indigo Buzz