TIGER STRIPES Review: Beautiful, Incisive Story of the Monstrous Feminine

Amanda Nell Eu wrote and directed the unsettling film from Malaysia, starring Zafreen Zairizal, Deena Ezral, Piqa, Shaheizy Sam, June Lojong, Khairunazwan Rodzy, and Fatimah Abu Bakar.

Contributing Writer; Chicago, IL (@anotherKyleL)
TIGER STRIPES Review: Beautiful, Incisive Story of the Monstrous Feminine

The debut feature of Malaysian filmmaker Amanda Nell Eu, Tiger Stripes delivers a premise we’ve seen several times before, in films like Ginger Snaps, Raw, Carrie, and more. But the honesty of its emotional arcs and the righteous anger of its social commentary overcome any complaints of roteness.

The film centers on young teen Zaffan (Zafreen Zairizal) and the more-than-human bodily changes she begins to experience after her first period. There’s the usual loss of hair and nails, the appearance of painful rashes, and more that attends her allegorical body-horror puberty, all of which is well realized and often squirm-inducing in its depiction.

But it’s not the physical pain that’s central to Zaffan’s story, or even seems to be that much of her concern, it’s the social consequences of her transformation. It's a transformation that’s largely invisible to the other girls around her at school, beyond the knowledge that she’s had her period.

The other girls tease and bully her about the way she smells. One of her two best friends, Farrah (Deena Ezral), becomes the leader of the attacks and drags the other far more sympathetic friend Mariam (Piqa) away from Zaffan. There are obvious but effective moments of Zaffan being left alone during lunch, and not having a partner during a camping trip that emphasizes just how lonely she is.

More than the loneliness though, it’s the destruction of that initial trio of friends that is devastating, all the more so because Eu spends time with the girls before the arrival of Zaffan’s period. We see them walk home from school together, joke, fight, make up, and generally interact in the ways that only people who have known each other for years can. It makes Farrah’s betrayal and Mariam’s struggle to pick a side all the more palpable.

Things take an interesting turn when Zaffan’s affliction becomes more communal and other girls begin to experience fits. It’s never made clear what the relationship is between Zaffan’s changing body and the experiences of the girls around her, but there’s a beauty to that inexplicability that feels almost like an expansion from the monstrous to the mystical.

Of course, any such communal change in young women requires a response, and here that response comes in the form of social media influencer/religious healer Dr. Rahim (Shaheizy Sam). But Dr. Rahim is clearly more invested in what exorcizing the potential demon can do for him and his follower count than helping any of the young women. We see him carefully set up a ring light and his phone before beginning a ritual to ostensibly help Zaffan that would feel too on-the-nose if it weren’t something that feels like something that happens every day.

The film’s emotional impact and social incisiveness is augmented by the visual and aural world Eu creates here. Early on, she uses a narrow, smartphone/TikTok view to show the girls being girls in the 21st century; we see them recording videos of themselves dancing and see what they see in this form. That format is then used in scenes of bullying and Dr. Rahim’s “healing” in ways that make these injustices feel more immediate.

The film is full of lush, bright natural green that contrasts with the stark white of the girls’ school uniforms. There are some stunning night images of orange and yellow light interacting with the deep greens and blues of Zaffan’s bedroom. And Eu makes the most of a mysterious woman with glowing purple eyes, who may well be an image of Zaffan’s future, as she sits high above the girls in the forest’s trees for a few moments.

Tiger Stripes may not have a very original premise, but it delivers a beautiful and incisive story of the monstrous feminine that can stand alongside the great films that came before, and deserves to be just as celebrated.

Review originally published in July 2023 during the International Competition at the Neuchatel International Fantastic Film Festival in Switzerland. The film opens Friday, June 14, in select theaters in New York and Los Angeles, via Dark Star Pictures.

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Amanda Nell EuDeena EzralFatimah Abu BakarJune LojongKhairunazwan RodzyPiqaShaheizy SamZafreen Zairizal

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