The Movie Waffler New Release Review - TIGER STRIPES | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - TIGER STRIPES

Tiger Stripes review
A young girl discovers a terrifying secret as her body goes through puberty.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Amanda Nell Eu

Starring: Zafreen Zairizal, Deena Ezral, Piqa, Shaheizy Sam, June Lojong, Khairunazwan Rodz

Tiger Stripes poster

An intriguing aspect of the so called "trans debate" (I mean, I say "debate," but you know that what I really mean is "a minority of vocal people exercising trumped up, knee jerk opinions about a complex subject of which they have little to no understanding") is the suggestion that in certain instances girls wish to transition to boys in order to sidestep all the attendant misery which accompanies the gender that they were born into. Being a cis-male who is fortunately comfortable with myself I realise that I am in no position to comment but the proposition does make sense: being a girl means being judged every day of your life in ways that boys simply are not. Google "girls school uniform controversy" for a prosaic, pernicious example of this double standard; witness how girls are excluded from activities or interests that are traditionally male-oriented and not "ladylike"; say the word "gentleman-like" out loud for the first time ever in a stark contrast to the routine chastiser "ladylike". And these societal expectations arrive before the waves of objectification and intrusive maltreatment yet to come from men and boys (not to diminish the experiences of the participants, but after the broadcast of the first Kevin Spacey doc, women I spoke to about the show were blasé, reasoning that male to female equivalents of what Spacey is alleged to have done wouldn't make it to telly because they are just so commonplace).

Tiger Stripes review

In Amanda Nell Eu's (with writing credits shared with Samm Haillay) startling and original-feeling debut, Tiger Stripes, a 12-year-old girl at the onset of puberty beings to experience a vivid and unique transition, one which physically changes her into the wild cat of the title. Zaffan (Zafreen Zairizal - amazing by any standard) is a typical girl with a group of hot/cold blowing friends and a love of dancing and pop music. And, as a typical girl, she also experiences the quotidian cautions of being an adolescent female: "only sluts" wear the bra which Zaffan is newly struggling with; her actual mother beats her in front of the neighbours for wearing the wrong clothes; and in a all-girl school, her classmates are told ‘"most of you will amount to nothing with that sort of attitude" (ie, spirit).


In a moment of causal imagery distinctive to Tiger Stripes' fable-like tale, browbeaten Zaffan is bollocked for missing prayers when she gets her period just before the service. The correlation of menarche with devastating and unwelcome supernatural power is by now a trope (Carrie, Verónica), but with its bold storytelling and bright as a picture book imagery Tiger Stripes makes the parable fresh and urgent, placing the narrative within a superstitious Malaysian society where demons and strange creatures are an established aspect of the culture.

Tiger Stripes review

A lot of Tiger Stripes' impact is due to Zairizal's astonishing performance. With her big, open face she effectively essays frustration, pain and, eventually, a sense of joy as she undergoes the gradual transformation. The animal nature initially presents in Zaffan growling and baring her teeth with the display crucially manifesting in reaction to her given circumstances. Her friends are nonplussed, bullies make "kitty noises" to tease her, and the society is terrified, eventually sourcing an exorcist to remedy the situation. As things reach a head, it might have been better calling a vet, or, even better, someone who would help and support Zaffan. No dice: as ever, girls should and must conform to the patriarchal hegemony.

Tiger Stripes review

The film suggests a rebellious streak within Zaffan (the bar of which is always so low for girls due to the high expectations placed upon them) by juxtaposing her with her meeker friends, one of whom is a school prefect no less. Zaffan scribbles explicitly sexual stickmen diagrams in the margins of her schoolbook and films herself dancing for TikTok: she is curious about the world and her place in it. Correspondingly, in moments of transformation, the film thickens with feline excitement: the soundtrack pulses and colours seem to become more vivid. After all, who can tell a tiger what to do? Who would dare put her in a cage? The supermarket Halloween costumery which constitutes Zaffan's eventual alter ego is utterly charming too, with Nell Eu making an aesthetic virtue of necessity. This fun and funny aspect of Tiger Stripes is characteristic of the film, which, while mired in the cruel experiences of female adolescence, consistently shows moments of happiness and excitement. We end with a credits showcase of Zaffan's impressive TikTok moves, and witness her as a character who is expressing herself, dancing for herself, and is absolutely delighted in being herself.

Tiger Stripes is n UK/ROI cinemas from May 17th.



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