Director: Jennifer Reeder
Starring: Kiah McKirnan, Melanie Liburd, Ireon Roach, Casimere Jollette, Tim Hopper, Chris Lowell, Alicia Silverstone
With its eye-catching poster and intriguing premise, Perpetrator seemed primed to deliver one of the year's more memorable genre entries. Jennifer Reeder’s latest effort follows Jonny (McKirnan), a young girl struggling to harness her untapped powers in a town where missing girls are becoming an all too frequent occurrence. According to Reeder herself, the film is “inspired by the shared experience of generations of women,” and an “exploration of youthful chaos” - and it’s immediately apparent that Perpetrator is a brazenly feminist film that champions the strength and intensity of women…it’s just not particularly successful.
"The approach here seemed to be just to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks, except nothing really did, instead ideas found themselves drowned in the endless pools of blood."
Perpetrator continues the director's recent wave of inconsistency - 2021’s Night’s End wasn’t great though 2019’s Knives and Skin and her V/H/S/94 short Holy Hell were better efforts - as it frustratingly falls short of its ambition. It’s a film that attempts to say and do a lot but doesn’t have enough in the tank to sustain itself. Tonally it's particularly wonky as it switches away from metaphorical storytelling to a more literal style partway through which takes away much of the intended impact. Further to this, Perpetrator begins as a slasher film - or at least in its setup and approach - before veering into themes and subplots surrounding coming-of-age, sexuality, abductions, “forevering” (lol), and spectral energy - forevering being a term used to describe a byproduct of Jonny’s powers. To further muddy the waters, the film suffers from a distinct villain issue, the issue being he wasn’t a very good one - but we did find out he’d love to f*** himself for no reason, so that’s that (identity withheld for spoiler reasons). Disappointingly, the approach here seemed to be just to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks, except nothing really did, instead ideas found themselves drowned in the endless pools of blood. There is SO MUCH blood throughout Perpetrator, and if you are a squeamish type, steer well clear, though this gorehound enjoyed the excess.
Alicia Silverstone, as Jonny’s weird aunt Hildie, clearly got the memo regarding the film’s assumed tone and how to approach the subject matters, but it seemed no one else did considering how weird and campy the film and its dialogue actually were. The young cast plays everything so straight that it robs the film of any potential dark fun or gonzo behaviour - and couple that with the issue that their performances aren’t particularly great throughout and it feels like a real missed opportunity not to embrace the chaos that bit more.
With its inspirations, from Heathers to Cat People, littered throughout, Perpetrator is saying the right things and carries important messages, it just feels geared towards a surface-level approach to feminism and empowerment in a way that feels somewhat removed. It’s absolutely ambitious despite being ultimately unsuccessful, but there are moments to appreciate throughout.
August 8th 2023