Tiger Stripes

They are best friends who do everything together, inside their school and outside on the river bank on the cusp of the jungle which surrounds their village in rural Malaysia, safe places of childhood without adults or men to criticise or chastise, Zaffan, Farah and Mariam apparently inseparable until changes begin within Zaffan, waking to find blood on her bedsheets, washing herself off in the shower but finding the shame cannot be so easily cleansed from her reputation.

Where before they were always a cohesive unit in every thought, laughter following in their wake, somehow Zaffan has become an outsider, Farah marshalling the other girls in the school to taunt and mock her, the teachers who once watched Zaffan for any deviation from the strictly enforced codes of dress and discipline suddenly absent as the cruelties are enacted, yet the strange changes to her body have only just begun.

An international co-production written and directed by Amanda Nell Eu which was premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, Tiger Stripes is a tale of metamorphosis, Zaffan (Zafreen Zairizal) seeing the swimming frog which was once a tadpole, playing with the crawling caterpillar which will become a butterfly, and wondering what she will become, hearing the sounds of the jungle call to her and wishing to run away and live with the wild animals.

Regarded as unclean, a monster, is it Zaffan’s own body which is turning against her with the thick hairs she grows, the smell the others say she now carries, or rather is it their fears which have manifested within her, or is she indeed possessed by the demon which the others claim to have seen in the high branches of the trees at night, eyes glowing, her parents reluctantly calling an exorcist when the situation at school becomes so overwrought that many of the girls collapse in what might have been an orchestrated prank.

Doctor Rahim (Shaheizy Sam) a man more interested in promoting himself than the wellbeing of his patients, he presents himself as charming but even as he ingratiates himself into the community his presence is creepy, taking advantage of the situation to force the children and the families to do his bidding, his victim the innocent girl who was once praised for bravery and natural leadership now become a pariah, though not one without claws.

The strength the lush setting of Selangor on the west coast of Malaysia and the core cast, Farah and Mariam played by Deena Ezral and Piqa with June Lojong as Zaffan’s mother Munah, driven by desperation to anger when she is unable to comprehend what is happening and aghast at the unwanted attention, but with much of the cultural context perhaps lost in translation Tiger Stripes seems less than the sum of its parts, even the largest tigers who stalk the jungle at heart big cats who sometimes just want to play.

Tiger Stripes will be in UK Cinemas from Friday 17th May