Smart Body Horror Offers Wild & Unique Approach To Coming-Of-Age Storytelling


  • Zafeen Zairizal shines in the lead role, showcasing depth beyond her years in the unique coming-of-age film, Tiger Stripes.
  • Amanda Nell Eu’s direction and Jimmy Gimferrer’s cinematography create stunning visuals that draw audiences in.
  • Despite its rushed ending and unanswered questions, Tiger Stripes cleverly intertwines body horror with themes of female empowerment.

The coming-of-age genre has seen a wide variety of approaches to the formula, ranging from the more lighthearted My Girl to the Oscar-winning Moonlight, though they most typically take a grounded and straightforward route to the story. Then along comes Tiger Stripes, the body horror movie that was Malaysia’s entry for Best International Feature Film at the Oscars following its acclaimed debut at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. Melding gut-wrenching body horror with unique parallels between puberty and transformation, writer-director Amanda Nell Eu’s feature debut is thoughtful and intriguing, even if it doesn’t fully soar.

Tiger Stripes revolves around Zaffan, an 11-year-old girl enjoying a generally quiet and carefree life in her small Malaysian village, often to the chagrin of the teachers at her religious school, as well as her strict mother. When puberty begins, and she starts experiencing a variety of changes to her body, Zaffan will find herself not only becoming an outcast to her friends and family, but also changing into something far more powerful.

Tiger Stripes’ Script Is A Powerful & Delightfully Fresh Take On Its Genre

Though the nature of growing up and undergoing changes is a storyline that remains forever relatable, having a unique twist on the concept is still beneficial to helping set apart a film from its competition, and Tiger Stripes excels on this front. Zaffan’s transformation into a were-tiger-like creature is a fascinating one far separated from the likes of the more comedic Teen Wolf or Pixar’s Turning Red, taking the opportunity to remain as serious as ever with its story and concept.

This proves all the more captivating as her powers grow and expand beyond a typical were-animal story.

In effectively establishing Zaffan’s life prior to this gradual transformation, Eu’s script does a very nice job of ensuring audiences remain invested in her well-being, even as she becomes more and more violent. Though her parents don’t display much of a change as the story progresses, watching her friends turn on her raises the stakes as we wait to see if they’ll become her first victims, or if she will try to combat her animalistic side and remember how she cares for them. This proves all the more captivating as her powers grow and expand beyond a typical were-animal story.

But it’s the subversive approach Eu takes with Tiger Stripes that helps the movie stand even further apart from other genre entries. More than the base puberty-monster parallel, the debuting filmmaker intriguingly interweaves themes of self-identity and self-empowerment into Zaffan as her transformation progresses. She fights to avoid embracing her true self, which often results in more pain and heartache for her and those around her, rather than enjoying her life.

Zafeen Zairizal Dominates The Screen With Her Performance

Casting younger actors is never an easy feat for a movie, particularly one in which they play the lead role. It puts a lot of responsibility on them to not only be a good performer, but also a believable one. Thankfully for Eu, Zafeen Zairizal proves to be an absolute discovery with her turn as Zaffan, showcasing acting skills well beyond her years that should, in a just world, make her a star well outside of her home country.

Throughout the movie, Zairizal displays a remarkable ability to navigate the two very different sides of Zaffan. From the opening moments of filming a viral dance trend on her smartphone to her fears of what she’s turning into and full-on brutal kills, Zairizal powerfully captures the wide range of emotions her character goes through as she comes to terms with what’s happening to her.

This is all the more evident in a bathroom scene halfway through the film, in which former best friend Farrah begins bullying Zaffan with a group of their peers for her bizarre behavior and natural bodily changes due to puberty. Starting the scene frightened and heartbroken over the treatment, Zairizal’s protagonist quickly embraces her animalistic side, turning the tables on them all in haunting fashion. Zairizal’s quick ability to turn on a dime makes this change all the more compelling and terrifying to watch.

Eu’s Direction & Jimmy Gimferrer’s Visuals Are Gorgeous

But it can’t save a rushed ending

One of the other highlights is Eu’s direction and Jimmy Gimferrer’s cinematography. Primarily utilizing natural lighting and locations, the duo have crafted a truly gorgeous visual palette, drawing audiences into the story further with each passing moment. This is made all the better by the movie’s climactic sequence, resulting in the most shocking transformation for Zaffan, which nicely utilizes primarily practical effects with one CGI element that is truly haunting to look at.

Unfortunately, this beautiful direction isn’t enough to make up for Tiger Stripes‘ rushed ending. Though the movie progresses at a steady enough pace, its finale is a bit too abbreviated and lacks any major answers to what preceded it. It could’ve used an extra 20–30 minutes of storytelling to offer a better sense of closure for some of its characters. Yet, Tiger Stripes‘ ending nicely aligns with the movie’s overall themes and messaging, and though it may leave some frustrated and wanting to know more, the movie at least leaves us having gone on a smart and fierce journey through young womanhood.

Tiger Stripes (2023) - Poster

Tiger Stripes is a forthcoming drama film that delves into the complexities of human relationships and personal growth. The story follows a group of individuals navigating their interconnected lives, grappling with themes of identity, belonging, and redemption.


  • Zafeen Zairizal delivers an absolute powerhouse lead performance
  • Amanda Nell Eu’s direction & Jimmy Gimferrer’s cinemtography is gorgeous
  • Eu’s script also wonderfully mixes the movie’s body horror with themes of female agency and self-empowerment.

  • A lack of proper answers and ending are sure to frustrate some

Source link

Leave a Reply