‘Perpetrator’ Review: A Clueless Attempt at New-Fangled Feminism

Courtesy of Shudder

“There’s nothing less desirable in this world than a young girl in tears.”

This is one of the many heavy-handed lines that permeate Jennifer Reeder’s well-intentioned, but ultimately clueless new film, Perpetrator, which recently screened at the 2023 Fantasia International Film Festival and is now available on Shudder.

While Reeder’s Knives and Skin was compared to the Laura Palmer-starring works of David Lynch, her latest feature feels more akin to a Lucky McKee or Karyn Kusama film, particularly the coming-of-age body horrors of May and Jennifer’s Body. Alas, it doesn’t reach the heights of either of those similarly themed films, its overwrought dialogue, low-res special effects, and mismatched performances weighing down a promising premise about how women carry the emotional weight of the world.

Perpetrator explores the effects of “profound spectral empathy,” a power that the film’s protagonist Jonny (Kiah McKiernan, Mare of Easttown) discovers she has on her 18th birthday. Described as “possession in reverse,” this supernatural gift allows Jonny access to other people’s thoughts and emotions. Under the right circumstances, this can be a powerful tool—say, when trying to defeat a mysterious masked figure who can’t stop kidnapping girls.

In addition to exploring Jonny’s transformation from cynical teen to sensitive powerhouse, Perpetrator also tries to dig into the dangers of navigating the world as a sexually empowered young woman. One of its strengths is its queerness, which it presents as a healthy, fulfilling alternative to toxic heteronormativity. But the film doesn’t offer any new insights on that front really, reiterating points that films like The Perfection have made more effectively.

Queer audiences may actually be drawn to the film for a number of reasons, including its use of Clueless star Alicia Silverstone, who does a campy Patricia Clarkson impression as Jonny’s Aunt Hildie. Also among the supporting cast is Chris Lowell (My Best Friend’s Exorcism), who plays a creepy staff member at Jonny’s private school. Both of these actors can be wonderful additions if used effectively (see: Silverstone in The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Lowell on Glow). But here they feel sadly out of place, as if they signed on to a different project entirely.

Similarly, with its strange mix of dialogue-heavy scenes and montages of gore, Perpetrator never quite finds its footing in terms of plot. You are dragged from one scene to the next, often without warning or explanation. Perhaps this was purposeful, designed to keep you on your toes. In any case, I left the film with more questions than answers about Jonny and her future. What exactly is the “Forevering” and why should I care?

As a fan of Reeder’s previous works (including her shorts and her segment in V/H/S/94), trust me when I say I wanted to like Perpetrator more than I did. Maybe with a bigger budget and a few more drafts, it could have really been a sharp-toothed satire. As it stands right now, however, there isn’t much to sink your fangs into.

  • Perpetrator


Jennifer Reeder’s latest feature has a promising premise, but fails to pierce skin with its surface level commentary on sexuality and empathy.



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