by Hope Madden
Jennifer Reeder is preoccupied with missing girls. Her 2019 gem Knives and Skin watched a town fall to pieces around one such absence. Where that film was full of melancholy absurdities, Reeder’s latest, Perpetrator, is a little bolder, a little angrier.
As Jonny (Kiah McKirnan) approaches her 18th birthday she goes a tad out of control. Her dad (also in some kind of crisis) doesn’t know what to do with her, but an out-of-town aunt (Alicia Silverstone, a sinister delight) offers to take her in. So, Jonny goes from a fairly anonymous, if reckless, urban life to something far more noticeable in her aunt’s small town.
And there is something deeply amiss in Jonny’s new hometown. Girls just go missing. All the time.
McKirnan’s fish out of water performance is so much fun here because Reeder forces the audience to identify with this feral creature. The rest of the town is so odd, almost willing victims after a lifetime of systemic herding. Jonny’s humor, cynicism and enjoyable streak of opportunism give the film a constant sense of forward momentum, though the just-this-side-of-surreal atmosphere has a dreamlike quality.
Silverstone’s prickly, unpredictable performance is nothing but twisted fun, and all the supporting turns contribute something simultaneously authentic and bizarre to the recipe. (That’s a cooking metaphor because of Aunt Hildie’s birthday cake, an ingenious and foul plot kink worth acknowledging.)
Reeder’s work routinely circles back to peculiar notions of coming of age, but John Hughes she ain’t. Goofiness and seriousness, the eerie and the grim, the surreal and familiar all swim the same bloody hallways, practice the same open shooter drills, and speak up at the same assemblies honoring the latest missing girl.
Reeder’s interested in the way women are raised to disregard one another, to compete with each other, to be adored and consumed, sexualized, victimized and vilified. Her reaction to this environment amounts to a reclamation of blood. Perpetrator swims in blood and gore and humor and terror and feminism galore.