Writer/director Jennifer Reeder’s 2017 “Signature Move” is one of the funniest and sweetest lesbian romcoms you’ll ever see. Her new queer body-horror movie “Perpetrator” (IFC/Shudder), as inventive as it is derivative, is sure to be despised by “Barbie” movie-hating Christian nationalists who will go nuts over the female empowerment message. Too bad for them.
“Perpetrator” doesn’t waste any time setting the mood. High school student Evelyn (Taylor Kinkead) is walking home at night when she is abducted by someone she appears to recognize. Evelyn is one of a multitude of teen girls who have gone missing in the same Chicago neighborhood. Her masked abductor, who is performing some kind of painful medical procedure on her tells her that girls like her don’t know what they’ve got until it's all gone.
Jonny (Kiah McKirnan), short for Jonquil, another high schooler, jiggles car door handles hoping to find one unlocked. She ends up breaking into a house, stealing prescription meds, some jewelry, a sequined dress, and other stuff. She sells some of it to a guy before heading home to her father Gene (Tim Hopper) where she gives him money towards the rent. Gene is struggling with health issues and decides to send Jonny to live with her aunt Hildie (Alicia Silverstone), who is better equipped to deal with Jonny as she approaches her 18th birthday.
The next day, at her new school, Jonny has a bizarre interaction with administrator Marcy (Audrey Francis), whose face is strangely bandaged. Marcy isn’t the only strange presence at the school. There’s also Principal Burke (Christopher Lowell), who takes great pleasure in enacting school shooter drills and putting the female students through a demeaning self-defense class. Then there’s fellow student Kirk (Sasha Kusnetzov), the son of Officer Sterling (Josh Bywater) and stepson of Marcy. Kirk, as it turns out, is the last person to have been seen with each of the missing girls before they disappeared.
Fortunately, Jonny’s able to find some like-minded classmates, including Elektra (Ireon Roach), Aviva (Casimere Jollette), Darby (Greta Stolte), and April P. (Maya Lou Hlava). That’s good because her home life with Hildie is highly stressful. Hildie seems to know something about Jonny that she has yet to share with her.
Following a particularly hallucinogenic reaction to the cake Hildie baked for Jonny’s birthday, Hildie fills her in on the details.
Jonny is gifted with “profound spectral empathy,” which Hildie calls “forevering.” Jonny, like her absent mother Jean (Melanie Liburd) and Hildie, is one in a long line of shape-shifting “proxies,” described by Hildie as “possession in reverse,” making them “women feeling all the feelings.”
Meanwhile, more girls continue to go missing. Additionally, Jonny and Elektra begin a romantic relationship. Both Jonny and Elektra become obsessed with finding the missing girls which leads to a plan in which they know Jonny will be abducted. From here on, the visual effects and Cronenberg-esque body-horror of “Perpetrator” begins to reach its peak. You may have figured out who the identity of the perpetrator before the revelation, but the shocking part is actually the purpose of the abductions. Writer/director Reeder handles it all like the pro she is.