A tonally awry supernatural thriller that veers from high camp to satire to gory slasher via arthouse, Perpetrator is tricky to pin down but ultimately frustrates, as the tropes pile up without convincingly paying off. Kiah McKirnan plays Jonny, a troubled teen, living with her father whilst also being an opportunist thief. Her mother has gone, and she imagines what her life could have been, before being sent in exasperation to live with her Aunt Hildie, a gloriously over-the-top Alicia Silverstone.
Here, on the cusp of her 18th birthday, Jonny learns she is a sort of superhero witch who can turbo-drive her empathy, have kaleidoscopic acidic dreams, and create bubbling puddles of blood which open into great swimming pools of gore. Sent to a school from which various girls have gone missing, Jonny attempts to find out who has been abducting and killing them, ticking off a list of suspects whilst coming to appreciate her newfound abilities.
It’s a full plate of horror tropes that tantalise, but much of Perpetrator lacks cohesion and is riddled with allegory – bathed in Suspirian red, with nods to Under The Skin as Jonny disappears into an underwater, surreal bloodbath to battle foes. Writer/director Jennifer Reeder ambitiously addresses multiple ideas around the patriarchy – girls coming of age, menstruation, empowerment – but these elements battle with jarring humour, as cartoonish school principal Christopher Lowell embarks on fake school-shooting enactments and self-defence classes that muddy the waters.
This broadness chafes against the surly McKirnan’s quest to discover who she is, with Reed throwing perhaps too many ingredients into her script’s cauldron. Perpetrator remains a foggy brew of themes that never really coalesce, often acting as an exercise in hollow style rather than substance. The cast fully commits to the proceedings, but it remains a cold, sometimes emotionally impenetrable and ultimately elusive film.
Dir: Jennifer Reeder (15, 100 mins)
Perpetrator is streaming on Shudder from Fri 1 Sept
words KEIRON SELF