(director/writer: Amanda Nell Eu; cinematographer: Jimmy Gimferrer; editor: Carlo Francisco Manatad; music: Gabber Modus Operandi; cast: Zafreen Zairizal (Zaffan), Deena Ezral (Farrah), Piqua (Mariam), Shaheizy Sam (Dr. Rahim), Jun Lojong (Munah), Fatimah Abu Bakar (Head Teacher); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Foo Fei Ling, Patrick Mao Huang, Fran Borgia, Juliette Lepoutre, Pierre Menahem, Jonas Weydemann, Ellen Havenith, Yulia Evina Bhara; A Dark Star Release; 2023-Malaysia/Taiwan/Singapore/France/Germany/The Netherlands/Indonesia/Qatar-in Malay with English subtitles)

“A bristling coming-of-age film with supernatural trappings.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A bristling coming-of-age film with supernatural trappings, which is the Maiaysian durector-writer Amanda Nell Eu’s feature debut. It’s set in a strict Muslim community in rural Malaysia. The 11-year-old Zaffan (Zafreen Zairizal) gets her first period, and as a result is ostracized by the students at her all-girls Muslim school. The adolescent girls believe the folk tale about a girl who fled the village and turned into a tiger, as told to them by the bullying older students no longer believing the tale but in need of harassing the youngsters.

Zaffan is a feisty girl whose best friends are Farah (Deena Ezral) and Mariam (Piqa). It irks the principal (Fatimah Abu Bakar) that the girls fool around doing Tik Tock dances in the bathroom and don’t study hard enough in school like the Chinese girls do.

Zaffan sees in the trees creatures with burning eyes and she’s mysteriously turning into a creature herself. But soon returns to a normal state.

In any case, the kid is turning into a little monster, filled with both rage and joy, but not in the way her teachers thought she should act to conform to society.

The derivative puberty story is a chilling call to womanhood for the rebellious Zaffan. The acting by the kids is amazing, and the images are striking.

The film won the Critics’ Week Grand Prize at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival.

REVIEWED ON 2/25/2024  GRADE: B+