Director: Amanda Nell Eu
Starring: Zafreen Zairizal, Deena Ezral, Piqa, Shaheizy Sam, June Lojong, Khairunazwan Rodz, Fatimah Abu Bakar
Puberty and horror have a long history together, the two go hand in hand. Many films have been created with adolescents coming of age through the refracted lens of the genre, and Tiger Stripes provides a new installment to the timeless canon. Amanda Nell Eu’s feature debut - winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes 2023 - deals with twelve-year-old Zaffan (Zairizal) who, after experiencing her first period, begins to undergo physical changes, but worse for her is the social ostracization that follows due to her bodily changes. Friends become distant foes as the reality of her new life settles in.
"The classroom/classmate drama (see: bullying) was far more horrifying and captivating than the body horror and cheap attempts at scares that occur throughout the film and especially in the final sequences."
The majority of Zaffan’s woes stem from a folk tale that describes a young woman fleeing her village and transforming into a tiger and receiving her first period, something her circle of friends use this as a rod to beat her with, as well as verbal insults regarding her hygiene and changes. Eu’s story strongly depicts the lines between early adolescence and coming of age in Zaffan’s struggles with her social group - including how TikTok is initially celebrated as freeing before later being used as a weapon.
Where the film succeeds is in its mystery and drama, alongside a strong lead performance from Zafreen Zairizal. At points during Tiger Stripes, classmates in close proximity to Zaffan are struck down by violent and uncontrollable seizures, events which aren’t fully explained but provide the most interesting elements of the film. Whilst the coming-of-age aspect is solid, it loses its way - along with the narrative overall - in the second half of the film due to some languid pacing, tone shifts, and some truly horrendous visual effects. I can appreciate the budget limitations, however, the classroom/classmate drama (see: bullying) was far more horrifying and captivating than the body horror and cheap attempts at scares that occur throughout the film and especially in the final sequences.
Tiger Stripes provides a sometimes hard-hitting depiction of puberty and society’s approach to it, but it is let down by its horror inflections which proved ineffective alongside the human drama that Eu captured extremely effectively.
July 25th 2023