Perpetrator suffers from a messy screenplay and inconsistent performances but is just campy enough to be enjoyable.
Shudder’s latest horror film, Perpetrator, is one wild ride. Jonny (Kiah McKirnan) is a 17-year-old thief with a lot of family trauma. Desperate to get out of her town, she is sent to live with her unusual aunt Hildie (Alicia Silverstone). On her 18th birthday, Jonny finds out that she is part of a family spell that will give her unique abilities, changing the way she goes about life. At her new school, she is made aware that there have been a series of missing cases with girls her age. Jonny uses her abilities and new friends to try and solve the mystery.
A lot can go wrong when a plot is as expansive as Perpetrator’s. From the first few minutes, it seemed as if not all of the filmmakers were on the same page. We are thrown into this world that feels very similar to modern times, besides the fantasy elements. However, there are very odd occurrences that are left unexplained. For example, when Jonny first goes to her new high school, they have a school shooting drill where someone comes in and sprays students with fake blood. Once “shot,” some of the students get very upset that they were victims of this fake massacre for a second time, claiming that they got in trouble whenever this happened last.
Scenes similar to this in terms of oddity are sprinkled throughout Perpetrator, but none of them have any explanation. I believe this is an attempt to mix humor and world-building, but we are never let in on the joke. On a similar note, there is a very strong style to the film. Director Jennifer Reeder puts a lot of focus on blood and how it comes out of the body. We get quick cuts to someone bleeding from the mouth and numerous scenes where different characters’ noses will start bleeding. While it could be inferred that this is a side effect of the magic seen during the film, there is no proper explanation as to why we are focusing on this, and this takes away most of the unsettling feeling that was intended.
However, no matter how confusing the story and style of Perpetrator are, the film still makes for an entertaining time. This is mainly due to Alicia Silverstone and Christopher Lowell’s performances. They both go all in on their campy roles, ensuring that every scene that their character is in will be the best part of the film.Not only are Silverstone’s scenes some of the best due to her performance, but every outfit and hairstyle she wears matches the exact energy that was needed for this film to succeed.
Somewhere in the development of Perpetrator, there was a great movie. But even with two strong supporting performances, almost no other actor seems to be in the same type of movie as them. The teenage girls are too serious during some of the film’s lighter moments, and as the final act begins, this is when the cast starts to lean into the fun of it all. Unfortunately, by this point, there’s almost nothing this movie could have done to pull itself out of the blood-soaked hole it has just dug. While on the surface, Perpetrator has an extremely unique premise, there is just too much going on for audiences to get much out of it.
Perpetrator premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on June 11, 2023 and will be available to stream on Shudder from September 1. Read our list of 15 films to watch at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival!