Jennifer Reeder’s Perpetrator breathes new life into modern horror


Veteran Chicago filmmaker Jennifer Reeder has unleashed her fourth feature film, the audacious pop art spectacle titled Perpetrator.

This genre-blending creation defies easy categorization, offering a captivating blend of horror, drama, and comedy. From the outset, Perpetrator immerses audiences in a whirlwind of emotion and suspense, signaling Reeder’s ambition to carve out a distinctive niche in modern cinema.

The film’s opening sequence is a montage that swiftly intertwines history and foreshadowing, setting the stage for the gripping narrative that follows. Reeder employs a handheld camera technique with rapid jump cuts that add a palpable sense of urgency and unease. Time appears to accelerate, and a pervasive sense of anxiety pervades every frame.

Reeder’s directorial style demonstrates a deep appreciation for the Italian giallo genre, while also showcasing her unique auteur vision. The film boasts Reeder’s signature use of bold, saturated colors, which infuse the nighttime scenes with a mood both haunting and enigmatic.

Perpetrator introduces us to Jonny Baptiste, a troubled teenager portrayed by Kiah McKirnan, who is sent to live with her great-aunt, portrayed by Alicia Silverstone. Just before her eighteenth birthday, Jonny is ensnared by a mysterious family curse known as “The Forevering.” Soon after, young girls begin disappearing, and Jonny embarks on a perilous journey to uncover the truth. Watch the trailer below:

One notable aspect of the film is the casting of older actors to play teenage characters, serving as a thematic reflection of the film’s central curse – a curse that bestows a unique gift upon its victims: empathy. The film’s political undertones are unapologetically present and open to discussion throughout.

While the horror elements in Perpetrator may seem familiar, Reeder breathes new life into them, drawing inspiration from various sources to create a story that resonates on both a subconscious and subtextual level. The film adeptly navigates genre conventions while infusing a feminist perspective. The characters don striking costumes and adopt gothic postures that emphasize the bold visual aesthetics.

The cinematography by Sevdije Kastrati paints the screen with nightmarish visuals, where fear oozes like thick, viscous fluid. Scenes depict bodies relinquishing vital fluids in various gruesome ways, from subtle drips to gory splatters, leaving viewers on the edge of their seats.

Perpetrator successfully melds elements of classic horror films like Clueless with modern sensibilities. It revels in the grotesque, delivering plenty of spine-tingling moments that will leave audiences squirming. Answers may be scarce, but hope is abundant, and the beating hearts of the characters drive the narrative forward.

One of the film’s standout features is the evocative score by Nick Zinner, guitarist for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Zinner’s music spans multiple genres, from pop to twang, injecting the film with a pulse of optimism even in its darkest moments. The sonic experience is visceral, akin to the flow of blood through veins.

Behind the scenes, the production benefits from the work of talented individuals such as production designer Adri Siriwatt and costume designer Kate Grube. The contributions of these creative minds add depth and authenticity to the film’s world.

Perpetrator premiered at the Music Box on August 24, 2023, for a limited week-long run before becoming available for streaming on Shudder starting September 1, 2023.

In an era where modern horror is in need of fresh and audacious voices, Jennifer Reeder’s Perpetrator stands as a testament to the power of fearless filmmaking. It offers a sustained mood of dread and exhilaration that modern audiences crave.

ALSO READ: Chicago-produced Get Away wins Best Horror at LA Shorts

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