Cannes 2023Film Reviews

TIGER STRIPES Barely Scratches the Surface of Adolescent Female Rage


From the jump, TIGER STRIPES is teeming with auditory life; the pulsing beat of the opening music prepares us for a film with a full throttle forward thrust. The sounds of the Malaysian jungle promise vitality and intrigue—if only any of this actually came to pass. 

Zaffran is a good kid, even if she stirs up her share of shit; so she has a bra and goes swimming in her school uniform, does that make her a criminal? She’s willing to share the bra with her goody two shoes friend, Farah, and then takes the fall when they get caught with it by a teacher. When Zaffran gets her first period, she is cruelly ostracized by Farah, who turns all the other girls against her. But, like I said, Zaffran is a good kid—instead of letting this vicious turn of events, completely outside of her control, get her down, Zaffran toughens up. She joins (and then, incredibly, excels within the ranks of) The Cadets, a kind of Malaysian Girl Scouts, and she makes even better marks than Farah, which of course only pisses Farah off more. 

Deena Ezral, the young actress who portrays Farah, delivers the best performance of TIGER STRIPES without question; I felt bad for this little girl, clearly so indoctrinated to hate both herself and women so much that she would so brutally turn on her best friend because of a spot of blood. But that only lasted about two seconds, because I spent the rest of the movie wanting to see her throat ripped out. Zaffran is supposed to be the monster, as she morphs more and more into a tiger, but it’s Farah I’m truly scared of.

Tiger Stripes movie

The premise for TIGER STRIPES holds so much potential, but the film ultimately disappoints on two important fronts: an unsatisfying lack of bloody violent catharsis, and director Amanda Nell Eu’s total third act abandonment of her protagonist in order to make a flimsy point about false internet prophets. These two flaws translate into maddeningly clunky pacing—Nell Eu and editor Carlo Francisco Manatad cut away right when things are just getting good, and linger too long in repetitive, dull moments, which are far too frequent. When telling stories about kids in the 2020s, the current trend in editing is to cut to the kids making TikTok videos (look how silly and carefree these modern kids are!); behold, their youthful joie de vivre! I don’t think that trend is bunk—Maïmouna Doucouré used internet videos effectively in her controversial 2020 film CUTIES—but it doesn’t work in this case as the Internet is never central to the narrative or the characterization of the girls. It becomes clear that Nell Eu’s screenplay simply ran out of steam, and needed some fluffing up. 

I was so ready to watch Zaffran go full GINGER SNAPS mode on Farah, on her bullies, on the entire school, but we’re never afforded more than some scratches, a few gored out animals. I’m not sure if this decision was made due to production budget limitations or if Nell Eu didn’t have enough faith in her writing and direction of the story to Go There, but in a movie about a girl who is possessed by a tiger demon, more is definitely more, even if the effects don’t cost millions of dollars. You’re more than welcome to write me off as a bloodthirsty American critic, but there are plenty of international female film directors who have successfully used beautiful, gory violence to express female coming-of-rage. I would be surprised to discover Nell Eu wasn’t inspired by current Jury member Julia Ducournau’s JUNIOR and RAW, two films dealing with girls turning into different kinds of monsters as they grow up. If a Julia Ducournau character gets her period, you’re going to know about it, whereas Zaffran’s transition into womanhood comes not with a bang, but with a whimper. 

I completely reject the idea that there is something wrong with Zaffan. I think Nell Eu would agree with me, but her slapdash use of magical realism subbing in for navigating us deeper into Zaffan’s head leaves the impression that Zaffan fucked up somehow, or is responsible. The total detour toward a half-assed critique of phony exorcists who are just in search of clout did not help in this arena. Is Zaffran a person, a tiger, a demon, or some combination of the three? I wish someone had pressed this question on Nell Eu, because I’m not sure she knows the answer. 

Katarina Docalovich
Katarina Docalovich is your average overly educated, under-employed Brooklyn transplant who takes film photos, talks too much about the French New Wave, and goes to the movies 3 times a week.

    The Bargain Bin: Secret Machines’ TEN SILVER DROPS

    Previous article

    RYE LANE Takes a Unique Route to a Familiar Destination

    Next article


    Comments are closed.

    Free ebooks Library zlib project