Fantasia Festival: Perpetrator (2023)

Director: Jennifer Reeder

Running Time: 101 Minutes

Starring: Kiah McKirnan, Alicia Silverstone, ​Christopher Lowell, Melanie Liburd, Ireon Roach, Avery Holliday, Casimere Jollette, Sasha Kuznetsov, Ilirida Memedovski, Greta Stolte, Josh Bywater

For her latest work, prolific writer/director Jennifer Reeder opens with a crime in-progress as an unseen figure stalks a girl. This opening is intercut with hints of the horrors to come, as glimpses of bloody utensils and newspaper articles are also shown before the girl is captured. A masked figure informs the captive that "girls like you don't know what you have until it is gone", announcing a desire to strip her of her own bodily autonomy.

Elsewhere, Jonny Baptiste (Kiah McKirnan) funds her intentions to leave home by stealing from houses that she breaks into. Living with a dad who appears to have given up, she wonders about her missing mother while imagining her desired life through imaginary conversations. As her 18th birthday approaches, Jonny is sent to live with her mysterious aunt Hildie (Alicia Silverstone) for the foreseeable future. The school-girl soon undergoes changes as unimaginable powers bloom, and she finds a new way to defend herself within a town adorned with posters of missing girls.

More in the vein of 2019's Knives and Skin instead of 2022's Nights End, Reeder's works are a unique blend of genres and tones which has characters talk in curious ways that can feel alienating. It's not that they are divorced from reality, instead feeling commonplace within this exaggerated reality Reeder establishes on her own terms. Silverstone rises to the occasion with her glorious line deliveries as the mysterious aunt, while Christopher Lowell is energetic as the school principal hyped to mock-shoot his students in mass-murder drills.

From a kaleidoscope effect to the repeated blood imagery, a unique visual style captures Jonny's transformation unfolding courtesy of her 18th birthday. As more girls are taken to be stripped of their agency regarding their own bodies, Jonny weaponizes her "turbo charged empathy" to redirect the blood imagery conveying violence against women towards the perpetrators instead. There is much Reeder wishes to tackle thematically, born from a desire to strike back against systems built against women, yet the feature falters in how it is all presented.

While the tale approaches America's nonchalance to school shootings and fragile masculinity, these themes feel underexplored amidst a sporadically focused tale missing a narrative thread to tie it all together. Character arcs are jarringly absent, leaving an emotional core to feel lacking amidst a tale without coherence which drags in places and has key revelations feeling disposable in their handling.

Perpetrator made its Canadian Premiere at Fantasia Festival 2023