Alicia Silverstone Stars in Horror Lacking Cohesion
Feb 23, 2023
Home Movie Reviews ‘Perpetrator’ Review: Alicia Silverstone and Kiah McKirnan Star in Entertaining Horror That Lacks Cohesion | Berlinale 2023
‘Perpetrator’ trades cohesion in favor of experimental dives into the glorious mix of fun and fright that only genre movies can offer.
A ruthless killer stalks young girls in the night, knocking them out and trapping them in basements to perform unspeakable experiments. After the opening scene of Perpetrator, it might look like Jennifer Reeder’s latest film might be unnervingly tapping into some of the worst aspects of torture porn. Fortunately, Reeder has bigger ambitions for Perpetrator, constantly challenging the audience’s expectations to craft a story about women regaining control of their own bodies. This is not your average feminist horror, though, as Perpetrator trades cohesion in favor of experimental dives into the glorious mix of fun and fright that only genre movies can offer.
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While there is a killer on the loose in Perpetrator, the movie’s focus quickly shifts to Jonny (Kiah McKirnan), a rebellious teenager who senses her body changing as she gets closer to her eighteenth birthday. Jonny lives alone with her deadbeat dad, who suffers from chronic pains and strange cases of face-melting in front of the mirror. And when the weight of raising a child becomes too heavy for the man to bear, Jonny is sent to live with her aunt Hildie (Alicia Silverstone), a mysterious woman who lives in a gloomy house and seems to know the secrets of the supernatural events that haunt their family.
While the outlines of Jonny’s story look like your classic misfit, there’s definitely something spooky going on. And for the first arc of Perpetrator, Reeder will tap into gore and twist images to show Jonny’s metamorphosis into something more than human. Part of the fun is trying to guess what’s going on with Jonny and realizing the film has pulled the rug out from under you. But it’s praiseworthy that Reeder draws from real teenage drama to build a psychedelic version of blood loss and confused identity. Perpetrator is wacky and visceral, and it soon becomes clear that it’s best to stop searching for meaning and just enjoy the ride while it last.
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That doesn’t mean Reeder’s latest movie doesn’t have anything to say, as Perpetrator is overflowing with images, characters, and dialogue lines that underline the feminist and queer-friendly intentions of the plot. Nevertheless, the movie never gets precisely to the point of things, losing itself between the unnerving and blatantly comic images it conjures on the silver screen.
While the lack of clear purpose allows Perpetrator to push the limits of how weird it can get, it can also make it difficult for the audience to get attached to the characters. For instance, Perpetrator’s commitment to entertainment gives birth to over-the-top characters that are wildly exaggerated and hard to take seriously. And while this is not a problem by itself, it makes it almost impossible to believe in the emotional stakes the movie tries to introduce in the third arc. The twists and turns of Reeder’s script are also too evident at times, which drains the pleasure we can get with an unexpected surprise.
While Perpetrator is flawed, it will make you laugh out loud at the absurdity of its surreal situations. In addition, Reeder’s new movie also boasts a fabulous cast that helps to keep things afloat when the script becomes too shaky. It also uses well-designed gore scenes to make you flinch in your chair. And at its most fundamental level, horror is all about testing our nerves while having simple fun, two things Perpetrator definitely offers. Unfortunately, Perpetrator is too scattered and uneven to become the next horror hit. However, fans of the genre looking to take a trippy stroll through a bloody and campy landscape will be well served with Reeder’s anti-slasher.
Perpetrator had its world premiere at 2023’s Berlin Film Festival.
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