Written and directed by Jennifer Reeder (“Knives and Skin”), “Perpetrator” juggles a lot of ideas, grotesque imagery, and side stories—some of which come together and complement one another, while some clash and distract from the other plot points. It’s a strange lumbering beast of a script, and while never boring, it never moves smoothly. The dress from the beginning is never seen again. Other random elements come and go, like why the school practices “massacre drills,” a ramped-up version of active shooter drills now taking place at schools. It’s a clever idea that only mildly pays off in the end. Certain things are never fully explained, like why Hildie punishes Jonny’s high school stealing by making her eat one of the objects (lipstick, a nice colorful choice). The concept of “Forevering” never really feels like it gets a real explanation, as the powers can be different from person to person, like an X-Men, but instead of the genetic mutation thing, it’s a matrilineal gift some girls get on their 18th birthday. Hildie somehow jumpstarts the process by making Jonny eat a slice of a blood-filled cake.
Despite the knotty narrative, Reeder and cinematographer Sevdije Kastrati clearly had great fun playing with the various deranged elements of Jonny’s quest. Reeder imagines Jonny wayward life, the gothic interiors yet normal facade of Hildie’s home, the strange prep school from hell, and later, a true underground of horrors and a blood-borne escape room unlocked by Jonny’s Forevering. One of the more striking shots, and perhaps the image most circulated from the film, arrives when Jonny’s Forevering turns her feral, unleashing a bloody-mouthed, sharp-toothed maniacal grin on the character’s face. Through Reeder’s camera, she shatters the view into a kaleidoscopic frenzy, heightening the sense of crazed emotions and power washing over Jonny.
Speaking of having fun, Silverstone and McKirnan give this movie their all, with Silverstone mixing a perfect blend of scary mystery and whimsical energy and Jonny bringing a defiant and headstrong performance to her role. Their scenes together are some of the movie’s most delicious moments. Like a teenager fighting any authority figure, there’s a power struggle between them, and the heated intensity seems to grow with Hildie’s inexplicable oddities and Jonny’s mounting frustration. However, the movie doesn’t find a definite resolution for their dynamic; it just skips over into better days.