Tiger Stripes Image

Tiger Stripes

By Sumner Forbes | June 11, 2024

No matter the culture, the coming-of-age story has a special resonance. We’re inundated with them here in the West, but seeing new perspectives helps us see beyond our limited horizons. This is the case with Tiger Stripes, a Malaysian drama from writer-director Amanda Nell Eu and story consultant Samm Haillay. The duo reimagines the coming-of-age tale from the viewpoint of young women in Malaysia, a country that holds a number of conservative views toward young women and their developing bodies and burgeoning sexuality. This makes this slice of horror special in its own right.

The film follows Zaffan (Zafreen Zairizal), a young high schooler going through changes, both physical and emotional. She has little interest in the life mapped out for her by her traditional parents and teachers. She makes TikTok dance videos, is happy to discard her headscarf, and is, above all, immensely proud of her new bra. Zaffan’s childhood ends in the course of one evening, though, as she receives her monthly visitor for the first time. This is an indicator to her community that her childhood is over, and her life is altered drastically, in more ways than one. What begins as a story about a normal occurrence all women growing up the world over go through becomes much more when Zaffan starts to change into something not human.

“…Zaffan starts to change into something not human.”

While we’ve seen movies from around the world grappling with similar themes, Julia Ducournau’s Raw immediately comes to mind. Still, Tiger Stripes is rife with surprises and entertaining sequences. None of it, though, would work so effectively without the work of Zairizal, who brings to her performance a precocious and irreverent nature that only a teenager could. She has a knack for commanding the screen. I don’t think this is the only time we’ll see her in Malaysian cinema or elsewhere. It’s not often that a talent like that shines through at such a young age.

Still, I wish Eu did more to separate this from the pack of similar features. Just because it’s a Malaysian perspective of the trials and tribulations of transitioning into a new phase doesn’t necessarily break any new ground. Every year, it seems like there are a handful of titles that remind us that high school girls are terrible little humans. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a feast for the senses to see Zaffan and her friends play in the colorful Malaysian jungle, but it takes more than a change of scenery to move the needle into something revelatory.

Tiger Stripes is highly recommended for families looking for an off-the-beaten-path take on growing up. The body horror elements are never too terrifying, and I think even younger viewers can pick up on the feminist messaging. Malaysian girls may generally not have the same opportunities for free expression that citizens of the United States, Canada, and elsewhere do, but this shows us that they have a voice and can be as fierce as tigers if they need to be. That is a message that never feels stale.

Tiger Stripes (2024)

Directed: Amanda Nell Eu

Written: Amanda Nell Eu, Samm Haillay

Starring: Zafreen Zairizal, Deena Ezral, Piqa, Shaheizy Sam, etc.

Movie score: 7.5/10

Tiger Stripes Image

"…highly recommended for families looking for an off-the-beaten-path take on growing up."

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