Berlin Review: Jennifer Reeder’s ‘Perpetrator’

Even in the horror world there’s never been much love for torture porn, and with the possible exception of Canada’s Soska sisters, few female directors have been inclined to try to reclaim it. Jennifer Reeder’s Perpetrator begins with all the icky tropes of the genre—the blood-spattered credit sequence literally looks like the intro to a particularly grisly episode of CSI—and for a time it looks like it’s really going to go there. Instead, it proves to be something much more striking and bizarre, a high-school body-horror movie for the gender-fluid Bones and All generation.

As with Luca Guadagnino’s movie, the opening scenes will see off the faint-hearted, as a girl named Evelyn Tufts is drugged and abducted, waking to find a masked psychopath doing something unspeakably medical and worryingly lo-fi. Her tormentor warns her not to resist, reminding her that “this is very bad, but it can always get worse”. But before Evelyn’s fate can be determined, our attention switches to Jonny Baptiste (Kiah McKirnan), a 17-year-old petty thief who lives with her father. When things get too much for him, the old man sends Jonny to live with her mysterious great-aunt Hildie, a deliciously gothic creature played against type—but not without reason—by Alicia Silverstone.

Related Story

'BlackBerry' Berlin Film Festival Review: A Biopic Of A Smartphone Turns Out To Be As Triumphant And Tragic As 'Elvis'

Staying with Hildie, Jonny enrols in then local high school, where she is grilled by the barking-mad nurse who asks, among other things, if she is sexually active. Jonny passes with a gold star, but life at school opens up a whole new can of worms: the headmaster is a safety freak who stages bloody massacres, giving demerit points to students who resist his mantra: “ESCAPE! EVADE! ENGAGE!” Here, the film slips into a broader and slightly less appealing camp mode that brings to mind Anna Biller’s The Love Witch via a series of supporting performances that, to put it kindly, prioritize exuberance over finesse.

In that way, it’s quite a rickety ride until the big reveal; Jonny’s blood seems to have a life of its own, and, in a sign of things to come, her father’s face flickers and morphs in the bathroom mirror. It all comes to a head on Jonny’s 18th birthday when Hildie’s special home-baked treat causes havoc in the home (and prompts the priceless exchange: “You owe me a new toilet!” “What was in that cake!?”).

There follows an amazingly convoluted piece of exposition in which Hildie reveals that Jonny is gifted with “profound spectral empathy”. Would you like to know more? “We are proxies,” says Hildie. “Surrogates. Mimics. Mirrors. We turn, we fake, we follow, we bend, we shift, we shape. We tune way in.” In a nutshell, this means that Jonny has a special gift for empathy that she can use to find the legion of missing girls, all from Jonny’s school, that have all gone missing in recent weeks after dating a local jock.

This revelation takes us back into more familiar stalk-and-slash territory as Jonny puts herself on the line to draw out the killer, but instead of ramping up, Reeder’s film seems to quietly dissemble, introducing a surprise character that undermines the great unmasking (assuming you haven’t yet figured out who’s set up a “chop shop” to strip the missing girls of their body parts).

It’s a shame, because, until then, Perpetrator boasts the kind of crazed auteurship that could make for a great midnight movie, using music as an assault weapon that pays off with a Lynchian needle-drop right at the end. Fans of Reeder’s work (notably Knives and Skin) will know her schlock-adjacent aesthetic by now, and they won’t feel short-changed by this, but it would be nice to see her move outside that comfort zone sometime and deliver something a little more ambitious but just as raucous in its delirious approach to female empowerment.

Must Read Stories

Sequel Marches To $17.5M In Thursday Previews, $41M Overseas In First 2 Days

Hot Packages: Riz Ahmed & Lily James In Mackenzie’s ‘Relay’; Michael Keaton In ‘Goodrich’; More

Stella Stevens Dies At 84: ‘Poseidon Adventure’ Actress & Elvis Presley, Jerry Lewis Co-Star

Stock Surges Amid Strong Q4 Earnings; James Dolan Addresses Wife-As-CEO Move

Read More About:

Source: Read Full Article