Perpetrator (2023)

Perpetrator (2023) MOVIE DETAILS
Name: Perpetrator
Year: 2023
Country: USA
Director: Jennifer Reeder
Main cast: Kiah McKirnan, Alicia Silverstone, Melanie Liburd, Casimere Jollette, Ilirida Memedovski, Ireon Roach
Runtime: 100 minutes
Production company: Divide/Conquer, WTFilms
TRAILER (Not available yet)


In the context of the Berlinale, the Berlin International Film Festival, this year the 73rd edition, we got to see the world premiere of the new movie from Jennifer Reeder. Not very well known by her name in the big audience, she is known for her collection of short films, most of them regarding the themes of teenagers growing up and trying to find their place in this strange world, but she has also been behind the mystical teen noir thriller Knives and Skin (2019) and the segment “Holy Hell” in the horror anthology V/H/S/94 (2021). Her new film, Perpetrator (2023), is, in her own words and as we could see on the screen, her most ambiguous work to date and is probably also an amalgamation of all the influences and themes one can find in all her previous works.

Although the premise might sound typical to many –a troubled girl about to turn 18 is sent to live with her mysterious aunt in downtown Chicago where strange events will happen–, the movie deviates from the typical boring blockbuster movies that populate our cinemas and streaming services and attempts from the very first minute to bring a personal experience to the audience, which is something to appreciate. Although perhaps the first half hour of the running time, where the visual narrative is close to experimental cinema, might get too annoying to watch –and this is my personal opinion with experimental cinema– and the pot developing might be a little confusing to follow at first. A clear influence of the early steps of Jennifer Reeder, who started off as a plastic artist before becoming a filmmaker.

Although the narrative decisions taken by the writer and director could seem risky at first, it is a necessary risk to take when developing a film with a theme and plot that is something we are accustomed to seeing in productions in the last decades. Missing young girls, estranged family members that are not what they seem, a young girl who discovers she is out of the ordinary after she turns 18, all of those are not new to us. But her presentation is something different, and also gives big importance to other matters as criticism of the beauty obsession, the fears of growing old, awful acts like the school shootings, and, overall, how strange is for girls to suffer the transformation of their bodies when they go from kids to adults.

Blood is an element present all the time in Perpetrator (2023). Not only when the action takes place and injuries happen, but it also has the symbolism as an element of growing, of sharing, of belonging somewhere, almost as if it was a form of communication itself. All kinds of blood, darker or redder, thicker or thinner, the red substance is dripping on many surfaces flowing from many orifices during the entire movie. A clear statement made by Jennifer Reeder in her constant work with teenage girls subjects. Because, let’s assume it, to be a teenage girl is bloody and society should accept it as it is. But, yeah, perhaps in this male-dominated world menstruation is still happy thin blue liquid and not the thick lumpy dark blood that comes from pain, from body parts getting unattached. And, after the Q&A at the end of the screening of the movie, Jennifer Reeder made sure her statement was clear.

In more technical aspects, acting is more than convincing in Perpetrator (2023). The young actresses perform very credibly and it is a pleasure to see Alicia Silverstone finally away from her roles of dumb rich blond chicks, a darker choice of projects that she has been carrying on in the last years with her participation in The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017), The Lodge (2019), Last Survivors (2021), The Requin (2022), or the American Horror Stories (2021–) TV series. The cinematography takes an important part in Perpetrator (2023) with that delightful use of colors and lights, keeping the scenes vivid. The music by Nick Zinner deserves a mention as well as it accompanies the watching with the right amount of tension. A good surprise to listen to his creation of a dark industrial ambient score closer to the works of Jóhann Jóhannsson and Hildur Guðnadóttir than his mainstream band Yeah Yeahs Yeahs.

Perpetrator (2023) is the kind of movie one is glad to see in a film festival, on a big screen, with an abundant audience of real moviegoers, and the participation of the director for the afterward presentation. It’s a good thing that a big festival like the Berlinale is, one of the top 5 in Europe, reserves a little spot for independent genre films like this and allows it to be in one of the biggest venues and have several screening dates. And the audience responded majestically with a sold-out, willing to participate in the party.

The next steps for Perpetrator (2023) are to become part of the Shudder catalog, which achieved the distribution rights for the movie even before its festival world premiere. So stay tuned because this is an interesting ride, a horror movie with a message, and an original one worth seeing.

RATE: 6/10