September 2nd, 2023
STARRING: KIAH MCKIRNAN, ALICIA SILVERSTONE, CHRISTOPHER LOWELL, IREON ROACH
DIRECTED BY: JENNIFER REEDER
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
Finding your voice as a writer or a director is an important part of becoming a filmmaker. In an industry where studio oversight can ruin an artist’s voice, it’s impressive when that cinematic vision is realized, where the ideas can run free. That describes Jennifer Reeder. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio but clearly a Chicagoan at heart, the director of films such as Knives and Skin, Night’s End, V/H/S/94, and Signature Move, has made her style uniquely her own. The style may be present in the works of names like David Lynch or Brian De Palma, but it’s the details that separate her from others, telling stories that reveal the Jennifer Reeder experience. Perpetrator might be Reeder’s best work yet. It is a film about a high school girl discovering dark realities about her family, and instead of running away from those changes, she embraces them with a ferocious appetite. Perpetrator is brilliantly moody and deliciously dark.
The main character is Jonny (Kiah McKirnan), a teenager who has developed a reputation for being the “wild girl”. From the start, we learn that Jonny’s Dad (Tim Hopper) can’t handle this period of her life, her teenage angst, and becoming more than just the child who obeys. Because of this, Jonny is sent to live with her aunt Hildie (Alicia Silverstone in a role we don’t see enough of her in), a mysterious person, often sleeping in the day and energetic at night, wearing feather night-gowns and her hair in a pinup girl style. She’s also sent to school at the all-girls prep academy, a place where the best behavior is only expected, active shooter drills are constantly run, and where principal Burke (Christopher Lowell) is treating the school as his personal feeding ground. High school is tough but there’s something about Jonny just waiting to get out.
As far as the style goes, Perpetrator is undoubtedly similar to a film such as David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and has a similar narrative inspiration to John Fawcett’s 2000 teen werewolf hit Ginger Snaps. Yet, what Reeder does so eloquently is wind her narrative around the character of Jonny, making this a physical and psychological journey for her. Her mother has never been a part of her life and others often would mistake her artistic spirit for being “wild”. It’s when a series of students in town go missing and as Hildie gives Jonny the attention she so rightfully deserved, this is when the story turns from a restriction of womanhood, into a releasing of a woman’s true potential.
The deeper Jonny goes into her family lineage, learning why her body is going through odd changes, the more the narrative takes a daring turn, and the superb performance by McKirnan impressively takes over. It’s that spiritual metamorphosis that Reeder has on display that is undoubtedly her own unique cinematic language. The special effects and dreamlike sequences in Perpetrator are individual pieces of art. We witness Jonny diving into a deep underwater pool of blood, a red swirling portal that could be real, or in her mind. It comes to life through Cinematography by Sevdije Kastrati, images that look like kaleidoscope faces, and character growth that builds with each sequence.
Perpetrator is an unleashing of true power and feminist spirit. It feels like a cousin to a film like The Craft but instead of witchcraft taking a turn for the worse, Johnny discovers her growth for true self-empowerment. The turn by Silverstone here is delightful, quite like Angelica Huston in The Witches or similar to Catherine Deneuve in Tony Scott’s The Hunger. The lead performance by McKirnan is the star and it’s the best work from Jennifer Reeder yet. Perpetrator is drenched in blood, deliciously dreamy, and the kind of horror you will want to sink your teeth into.
PERPETRATOR IS NOW PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS AND PREMIERES ON SHUDDER ON FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 1ST, 2023.
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady