TIGER STRIPES – Review by Justina Walford

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I have yelled it from the rooftops. Well, I’ve said it on red carpets and the radio, but I’ll say it anywhere: Women can make horror because we know horror so well. And wow, do we know body horror. We bleed once a month. We give birth. Many of us use surgery to alter parts of our body in the way men decide to get a haircut. Having a uterus means more gore, even at the doctor’s office. I’m surprised we don’t write a horror story right after all of our first periods.

And because of this, ever since Carrie came out, and then later with Ginger Snaps, I’ve wondered how menstrual horror didn’t become a stronger subgenre, especially from the women’s point of view and, as such, a strong metaphor for our empowerment. If we pan out to sexual awakening and consent, sure, we have a ton of coming-of-age horror films with a woman protagonist (Raw, Teeth, etc). But Ginger Snaps hits a little closer to the gut…well, the uterus.

So, I was excited to see Tiger Stripes in my review queue because I get to squirm and confirm through someone else’s menses. Set in rural Malaysia, 12-year-old Zaffan and her friends, Farah and Mariam, are normal young women, rebelling against the teachers and developing power dynamics within their relationships.

Zaffan is seeing changes in her body, and others are seeing changes in her body expression. This causes tension among the three girls and at school. Then, as she becomes the first student in class to get her period, Zaffan’s friends share cautionary tales about period hygiene and what can come from not being diligent.

Normal body changes from menstruation and a dismissive, poor communicator of a mother scare Zaffan. They should. Puberty is scary and lonely. But soon it becomes so much more. The reasonably expected itching escalates to red marks on her skin. Her hair is falling out in clumps. When she hallucinates a woman in the trees staring at her, like the cautionary tales warn, Zaffan is afraid she’s losing her mind. Will Zaffan be banished away from town and into the wilderness because she is different?

Tiger Stripes confronts societal norms and feminine taboos well. Its message is far from subtle, which leads to some laugh-out-loud moments of female angst and empowerment. We see a typical, but still enjoyable, arc for Zaffan as she starts as a joyous and naïve girl into a confident and independent young woman, even with the losses along the way. This is Amanda Nell Eu’s first feature, so I look forward to her finding her voice, smoothing some of the bumps in her storytelling, and emerging as a force in the film world.

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Justina Walford

Justina Walford is a film critic on a mission to spotlight the voices of visionary women behind the camera. Coming from a background in writing for stage and screen, Justina celebrates the diverse narratives and unique perspectives women bring to film. Her reviews not only critique cinematic techniques but also amplify the importance of representation in the film industry. Justina especially enjoys the edgier side of film in the rich and diverse landscape of art created by women. She is always on the hunt for trailblazers in horror and experimental work.