Tiger Stripes Delivers a Remarkable Social Film With a Girl That Shines Bright

Tiger Stripes delivers transformative body horror via a girl’s physical and emotional journey to self-discovery.

Tiger Stripes is a girl’s coming-of-age tale about the challenges girls face in a restrictive, oppressive, patriarchal society. The Malaysian flick takes the changes girls physically go through and ups the stakes where one’s body becomes a literal stranger to them. While not at the horror level of Ginger Snaps, this film makes an excellent double-watch with it or even the “Kick the Can” episode of The Twilight ZoneTiger Stripes delivers transformative body horror via a girl’s physical and emotional journey to self-discovery. 

The film, directed by Amanda Nell Eu and written by Amanda Nell Eu and Samm Haillay, focuses on 11-year-old Zaffan (Zafreen Zairizal) as the transition into puberty comes with additional surprises. By surprises, I mean the kid’s skin takes on the qualities of a tiger, complete with a tail. The gradual process does not deter her from living her life. Unfortunately, those around her have other ideas. 

Tiger Stripes Looks at the Pained Transition of Puberty

Puberty is different for everyone, but it always comes with an unknown quality. Here Zaffan’s transition to an unknown creature can be a stand-in for so much within society. From girls rejecting the patriarchal constraints of society to a metamorphosis on the road to womanhood to accepting transness, it offers multiple interpretations based on the viewer’s experiences. But above all, Tiger Stripes speaks to the challenge of self-acceptance. In fact, it would make an outstanding double feature with I Saw the TV Glow or Ginger Snaps

Highlights Peer Pressure and Exclusion

Tiger Stripes still of Zaffan, Farah and Mariam playing in the water.
Tiger Stripes still. Courtesy of Dark Star Pictures.

As Zaffan struggles with the changes, both puberty and other, her friends soon turn on her. After all, those changes young girls go through lead to preferential treatment. So, with it comes a growing resentment among her peers. Leading the charge is her friend Farah (Deena Ezral), who is more by the book and does not want to be led astray by Zaffan. 

However, it’s understandable, given the inescapable pressure to embrace conservative ideals in school and home that these young girls experience. Mariam (Piqa) rounds out the trio of girls. While not as straightlaced as Farah, she is susceptible to the peer pressure from Farah and their classmates. Zaffan struggles between fighting to fit in or accepting who she is wholeheartedly. The supernatural elements in Tiger Stripes add an aspect that feels less scary or more “hell yeah, break free!” 

Core Performances Wonderful

Tiger Stripes still of Zaffan looking up in a forest.
Tiger Stripes still. Courtesy of Dark Star Pictures.

For the movie to work, the viewers and the girls must have an emotional connection. Fortunately, Tiger Stripes steps up to the challenge. Zafreen Zairizal is terrific, showing a character that’s a force that no one can tame. When she does her TikTok video, it brings a smile and leaves audiences wondering why anyone would deter such joyous fun. Deena Ezral, as Farah delivers, increases viewer frustration because bullying is always anger-inducing. Yet, there’s a sympathy for what she will miss by conforming to others’ demands. Piqa also perfectly acts as a girl torn between two friends—but underneath that, she struggles between conforming and living free.  

Tiger Stripes is a beautiful film about the struggles of puberty in a restrictive society. It takes that transformation and makes it literally morph into an animal. Even though the effects are not top-tier, the story at its center makes each scene exciting, frustrating, and hopeful. Ultimately, there’s a choice to conform and make new friends or be true to oneself. In whatever form that takes, Tiger Stripes delightfully displays this. 

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