Jennifer Reeder’s latest horror-thriller Perpetrator offers viewers a twisted, nightmarish vision filled with shocking imagery and provocative themes. The plot follows Jonny, a troubled teen who moves in with her eccentric Aunt Hildie and begins investigating a series of disappearances at her new prep school. Things get stranger when Jonny develops empathetic powers on her 18th birthday, allowing her to physically transform into other people.
Director Jennifer Reeder has crafted a unique style over her past films, blending genres like horror, thriller and dark comedy while exploring the female experience. Perpetrator continues her tradition of creating surreal, discomforting worlds tinged with raw humanity. Strange visuals, from ghastly wounds to a birthday cake filled with blood, provide grotesque metaphors as Jonny struggles with her identity.
Reeder’s loose narrative style and cryptic imagery leave much open to interpretation. Some critics found the film too scattered, but its nightmarish mood and the committed performance of lead actress Kiah McKirnan thrilled genre fans. Love it or hate it, Perpetrator promises to be a memorable trip into the evocative, unsettling spaces of Reeder’s cinematic imagination.
In this review, we’ll dive deeper into Perpetrator’s odd allure. We’ll examine Reeder’s directorial trademarks, from the film’s themes to its arresting visual palette. By peering into this eccentric world, we hope to unravel what makes Reeder’s latest such a divisive and unforgettable experience.
Reeder’s Genre-Hopping Madness
Jennifer Reeder’s films can’t be easily categorized, drawing comparisons to surrealist auteurs like David Lynch and body horror pioneers such as David Cronenberg. She delights in blending disparate genres, keeping viewers off-balance. Perpetrator exemplifies her tendency to shapeshift between thriller, horror, dark comedy and more.
One moment we’re immersed in the grimy aesthetic of a gritty crime drama as Jonny picks locks and fences stolen goods. The next, we’re in wacky satire territory as the prep school principal gleefully enacts over-the-top active shooter drills. Then, things take a bizarre turn as Jonny manifests supernatural powers, and we’re dropped into a fantasy realm tinged with Lynchian unease.
Reeder vacillates wildly in tone and style, but this schizophrenic approach generates its own peculiar rhythm. We never know what’s coming next: The story might suddenly erupt into fountains of blood, or detour into a scenario mined for awkward comedy. Some have criticized this loose, scattershot style, but it also gives Perpetrator its anarchic verve.
When the film does settle into one mode for an extended period, it’s often to indulge in visceral body horror. Reeder delights in grotesque imagery: faces melted by botched surgery, guts oozing from wounds, Jonny’s skin bubbling as her body transforms. These squirm-inducing scenes recall Cronenberg’s disturbing fascination with the mutability of flesh.
Through it all, Reeder explores female adolescence in an off-kilter lens. The monstrous physical changes Jonny endures mirror the tumultuous metamorphosis of womanhood. Little moments, like girls discussing the disappearances with nonchalant entitlement, offer biting social commentary. Reeder’s fearless engagement with the horrific and hilarious sides of being an alienated teen girl gives Perpetrator its emotionally charged core.
Some may crave more structure from Reeder’s feverish concoctions. But those who can handle the whiplash will discover a director less concerned with genre boundaries than with burrowing into the darkest recesses of the adolescent experience. Perpetrator’s messy vitality shows a filmmaker boldly slicing open the body of horror to probe its rancid guts and hidden veins of meaning.
Descent into the Macabre
Jonny Baptiste is accustomed to living on the edge. With her father Gene incapacitated by a mysterious chronic illness, the 17-year-old supports them by breaking into homes and fencing stolen goods. But when Gene’s condition worsens, he ships Jonny off to live with her eccentric Aunt Hildie.
At her new prep school, Jonny learns that local teenage girls have gone missing. Before she can investigate, her 18th birthday brings shocking changes, as Aunt Hildie reveals their family’s supernatural gifts. Jonny develops empathetic powers allowing her to physically transform into other people.
Horrified but intrigued, Jonny dives into finding the missing girls. She befriends outcasts like the willful Elektra, attracting dark rumors. When she uses her newfound abilities at a party, experiencing foreign personalities firsthand, Jonny believes she’s close to answers.
Yet there are countless suspects, from an entitled jock to the principal enacting unhinged active shooter drills. As Jonny seeks the truth, her body revolts against her metamorphosis with gruesome results. She hallucinates oceans of blood and furniture melding into flesh.
Jonny is now an empathetic shapeshifter in a town where girls go missing without concern. Her disturbing visions escalate as she gets nearer to the monstrous perpetrator behind it all. When Jonny’s investigation leads her too close, she faces mortal dangers. But she’s determined to understand the darkness in others, even if it means unleashing the darkness building within herself.
Perpetrator lures us into a tense mystery only to derail into surreal body horror and nightmarish setpieces. Jonny makes for an intriguing heroine – cynical yet compassionate, frightened yet resolute. As this outsider teen navigates a world of crumbling sanity and vanishes girls, Reeder distills the anarchic, unnerving essence of adolescence into a stylish grimy fable.
Grotesque Metaphors and Haunting Visuals
Perpetrator utilizes graphic bodily transformation and copious gore to represent its deeper thematic concerns. Jonny’s gruesome changes mirror the turmoil of adolescence, while also serving as social commentary.
As Jonny gains empathetic powers, her flesh bubbles and contorts. Eyes sprout unevenly across her face, resembling a Cronenberg creation. Through this body horror, Reeder suggests the alienation teens feel as their identities form. Jonny’s abilities also cause uncontrollable bleeding, linking her transformation to menstruation and female maturation.
These uncanny scenes expose how society views teen girls – as both alluring and threatening. The serial killer sees them as sexual objects to abduct, while authority figures feel they must be strictly controlled. Between these extremes, girls like Jonny are denied autonomy over their changing bodies.
Empathy is both gift and curse for Jonny. As she morphs into others’ identities, she temporarily achieves connection. Yet she loses herself in the process, hinting that true empathy requires maintaining one’s own identity. There’s a price for Jonny in knowing others so profoundly.
Reeder’s unique cinematography and editing heighten Perpetrator’s surreal aura. Deep shadows cloak faces in obscurity, and bold reds saturate certain scenes. Extreme closeups of wounds and orifices push naturalism into abstraction. Rapid-fire montages assault us with unsettling imagery.
Most iconically, blood oozes everywhere – from Jonny’s pores, her bathroom, the grotesque birthday cake. Through this darkly poetic motif, Reeder reminds us of the horrors lurking beneath suburban normalcy. Jonny’s journey into the heart of darkness is mirrored by these stylish descents into blood-red fever dreams.
Perpetrator’s nightmarish style matches its provocative themes. Inshowing a teen girl’s flesh rebelling against her, Reeder exposes our culture’s misogyny and dehumanization of adolescents. As Jonny explores empathy’s light and dark sides, Reeder uses horror’s visceral language to probe timeless questions of identity in a startlingly original voice.
Braving Perpetrator’s Hall of Horrors
Perpetrator plunges viewers into one surreal setpiece after another, etching some indelible – and highly unsettling – images into our minds. Let’s examine how Reeder crafted several of the film’s most provocative scenes.
The opening sequence provides minimal context. We witness a masked man kidnap a screaming girl in POV shots recalling countless slasher films. Immediately we’re immersed in a grim, grimy world where innocence is devoured. Reeder strips away exposition, opting for pure cinematic vocabulary to convey dread.
Later, Jonny’s 18th birthday party becomes a perverse rite of passage. Aunt Hildie presents a cake filled with blood bags instead of frosting, evoking ancient pagan rituals. Jonny’s inner monster is being unleashed, with her metamorphosis captured in unflinching closeups. Reeder links female maturation with shapeshifting powers, suggesting a liberation from societal constraints.
No institution represents control more than Jonny’s prep school, where the principal’s unhinged shooter drills treat everyday as a war zone. Students are hunted by an authority figure turned predator. Here, Reeder employs satire, exposing the paranoid militarization of adolescence. Yet the scenes still crawl under our skin, becoming chaotic metaphors for discomfort within one’s own body.
Midway through, Jonny tests her new empathetic powers at a party. The camera trails her as ambient sounds fade into a muffled drone, adopting the perspective of her sensations. For Jonny, empathy is now a fragmenting force, threatening to overwhelm her identity. Reeder portrays it as both superpower and disability.
In the bloody climax, Jonny finally confronts the perpetrator, leading to a confrontation that’s surreal and visceral. Identity becomes a primal, mutable thing as she shape-shifts through multiple forms while drenched in gore. It’s a stunning cinematic vision of liberation through embracing the repressed darkness within.
Perpetrator’s most striking sequences seethe with stylized exaggeration and metaphor. But Reeder’s commitment to their emotional truth is what makes them resonate. She speaks the ambiguous cinematic language of dreams, transforming adolescent angst into avant-garde opera. It would be hard to forget such vivid celebrations of difference and defiance.
A Nightmare You Won’t Awaken From
Jennifer Reeder has crafted a unique directorial voice, one unafraid to break rules and induce nightmares. Perpetrator displays both her thrilling creative vision and frustratingly loose narrative approach. Yet despite its messy aspects, this surreal descent makes an indelible impact.
Reeder’s chief strengths are her daring style and gift for startling imagery. She employs genre mashups, arresting visuals, and provocative themes with confidence. Scenes linger in the mind thanks to their striking composition and rich metaphors. Even when the plot meanders, Reeder’s potent aesthetics entrance and disturb.
However, Perpetrator also reveals weaknesses in coherence and structure. The plot careens wildly with few anchors. Some characters, like Jonny’s father and girlfriend, remain ill-defined ciphers. The film can feel more like a half-remembered nightmare than a controlled vision.
Reeder would benefit from focusing her originality through more disciplined storytelling. Yet there’s value in her defiantly anarchic approach too, which taps into the chaos of adolescence. Perpetrator resists easy analysis or tidiness.
Flawed as it is, Perpetrator oozes the kind of dangerous creative energy that only the most talented provocateurs can conjure. Images of body horror and blood stick with you long afterwards. Debate around Reeder’s work will continue, but she is clearly an innovative voice horror cinema needs. Perpetrator is a testament to the liberating power of darkness, and the transformations that occur when we dare walk deeper into the shadows of the human psyche.
Perpetrator is a deeply unsettling surrealist nightmare - somewhat flawed in its loose narrative structure, but undeniably bold and provocative. Jennifer Reeder proves herself a master of bizarre imagery and psycho-sexual horror in depicting the metamorphosis and alienation of an outsider teen girl. Those who crave tidy plotlines may be frustrated. But viewers hungry for horror that pushes boundaries and immerses you in the messy throes of adolescent angst will find Perpetrator delivers a nightmarish high. It's a psychedelic trip down the rabbit hole of identity, empathy and feminine power.
- Strikingly surreal visual style and cinematography
- Creative blending of genres and tones
- Fearless use of body horror and gore
- Metaphors and themes related to female adolescence
- Strong lead performance by Kiah McKirnan
- Memorable and disturbing set pieces
- Jennifer Reeder's unique directorial voice
- Loose, disjointed narrative structure
- Underdeveloped supporting characters
- May be too graphic and extreme for some viewers
- Scattershot storytelling lacks focus and coherence
- Strange mood and style takes priority over plot
- Rapid shifts in tone can be jarring