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Tiger Stripes review: Female puberty horror is a world away from Pixar’s Turning Red

Amanda Nell Eu’s debut marries unwanted menstruation and cryptozoological mythology to spooky effect

Tiger Stripes
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Director: Amanda Nell Eu
Cert: None
Genre: Horror
Starring: Zafreen Zairizal, Deena Ezral, Piqa, Shaheizy Sam, June Lojong, Khairunazwan Rodz, Fatimah Abu Bakar
Running Time: 1 hr 35 mins

Whether it’s Carrie’s prom night gone wrong or the lycanthropic curse of Ginger Snaps, female coming-of-age stories are fertile territory for horror. A world away from Pixar’s similarly themed Turning Red, the writer and director Amanda Nell Eu’s debut marries unwanted menstruation and cryptozoological mythology to spooky effect.

Zaffan (Zafreen Zairizal) is a 12-year-old girl with a big personality in a small Malaysian village. As the first among her peer group to hit puberty, she’s swiftly ostracised. Her former friend Farah (Deena Ezral) deems Zaffan a slut and complains about the smell. A relentless bullying campaign ensues. The girls’ revulsion towards their former pal is rooted in superstition and misguided interpretations of Islamic culture. They live in a strange paradox, where they know nothing of sex education and everything about TikTok dances.

Whispered myths about periods and cleanliness coalesce into a perfect accidental riposte to Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. An increasingly hysterical schoolyard results in alarmed teachers and the arrival of an ill-defined and entirely unreliable faith healer. Acts of physical violence and strange occurrences are met with screaming fits and filmed on mobile phones.

Zaffan’s corresponding sense that her body is putrefying is not merely paranoia. Moulting hair and peeling fingernails slowly reveal that she is becoming a tiger. Her bodily terror is no more disconcerting than the preteen heroine’s isolation. The systemic cruelties of the playground are matched by a physically abusive mother and a casually absent father. Meanwhile, a scolding headmistress (Fatimah Abu Bakar) piles on academic pressure and dire warnings about Malay girls falling behind their secular Chinese peers.


Eerie electronic compositions from the Bali-based duo Gabber Modus Operandi and the cinematographer Jimmy Gimferrer’s vivid, nightmarish compositions amplify the distress.

No wonder Zaffan is snarling.

Tiger Stripes is on limited release from Friday May 17th

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic