Tiger Stripes

When it comes to horror movies about menstruation, there’s Carrie, Ginger Snaps, and not much else. Until now, that is. The Malay-language Tiger Stripes is a work of body horror focusing specifically on that particular aspect of puberty. Writer/director Amanda Nell Eu doesn’t really achieve scariness so much as a sense of deep discomfort. That’s enough to give the film a little punch.

The first time we see Zaffan (Zafreen Zairizal), she’s making a provocative TikTok dance video in which she sheds her traditional garb to reveal more contemporary clothing underneath. It’s the last time she’ll be happy for a while because she soon becomes the first girl in school to get her period. A local legend exists about a girl who went insane after menstruating, and sure enough, Zaffan begins experiencing bizarre bodily changes that cause her to resemble a feral animal. Her peers instantly reject her.

You don’t have to be Albert Einstein to figure out that Tiger Stripes is depicting menstruation from a scared girl’s point of view. That is to say, where it might initially make a real girl feel somehow gross or different from her friends, Zaffan undergoes a physical transformation that literally gives her claws, glowing eyes, and other things that set her apart from peers. The metaphor may be obvious, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t entertaining. Watching the character take on different qualities gets us feeling empathy for her.

Credit must go to Zairizal, a rare child actor who can convincingly pull this off. There are moments where she goes full-on animalistic, and it never once feels false. She’s incredible, particularly during a scene where Zaffan’s parents hire a social media-obsessed guru to drive out whatever demon is inside of her. Visual effects are used to turn the girl into a creature, yet it’s the actress’s performance that is the best effect of all.

The climax of Tiger Stripes is slightly underwhelming, although the final scene ties nicely – and meaningfully – into the opening. Beyond that, the film succeeds in grounding its fantastical story in identifiable emotions. How Zaffan’s appearance changes is secondary to how she changes on the inside and learns to embrace evolution. Here’s a horror movie with purpose.

out of four

Tiger Stripes is unrated, but contains adult language and violence. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.


© 2024 Mike McGranaghan