Roger Ebert Home

Tiger Stripes

In Amanda Nell Eu’s coming-of-age tale, “Tiger Stripes,” a young girl in Malaysia undergoes the mortifying experience of puberty, but with a twist. Not only is she trying her parents’ and teachers’ patience, showing off her new bra strap to classmates at her all-girls school, and getting her period, but she’s also developing an inexplicable rash, her nails and hair are falling off, her eyes glow red in the dark, and she’s repressing new uncontrollable urges. Growing up is hell, and it doesn’t get any easier when magical realism enters the frame. 

Zaffan (Zafreen Zairizal) is a bright-eyed troublemaker who, along with her best friends Farah (Deena Ezral) and Mariam (Piqa), make silly TikTok dance videos, play in the river on their way home, put stickers on random objects, and maybe play a little too rough until one of them stops the horseplay. But the childlike games come to an end when Zaffan is the first to get her period. Farah and Mariam distance themselves from her just as she’s going through inexplicable changes. Zaffan’s mom judges her harshly for her behavior and her dad seems rather disinterested in his daughter’s life. She tries desperately to hide the signs she’s changing, but hiding rashes and missing nails only provokes more teasing from her classmates. When a group of girls bully Zaffan in the bathroom, they fall into a mass hysteria, causing a pompous medical officer to declare Zaffan is suffering from demonic possession. Backed into a corner by society, Zaffan unleashes her newfound self in a show of strength and unbridled rage. 

“Tiger Stripes” dabbles in body horror without leaning fully into “The Fly”-level prosthetics. Instead, Zaffan is wrestling more with the psychological and emotional side of her story, especially her fear of losing friends and control of her body. As she tries harder to behave and fall in line with her school and parents’ expectations, she’s doubling her efforts to hide in plain sight, unaware of the damage it’s doing to her. Not all of the special effects work, but a few missteps can’t diminish the film’s impact. 

Amanda Nell Eu’s feature debut is a lively coming-of-age story that mixes the mundane and the supernatural with ease. The script co-written by Eu with Samm Haillay handles the schoolyard and home drama just as intensely as Zaffan’s fighting with her body’s changes. Zairizal is so vibrant in her earnest performance, relishing in the vicious anger of her character’s arc but also sensitive to Zaffan’s heartbreaking isolation, bringing twinges of pain and fear to her frame and face when her mother is criticizing her or when the schoolgirls are ganging up to hurt her. Even when we think we know where this story is headed, some mysteries can’t be easily explained, like when a different glowing set of eyes stare back at Zaffan from the tops of a tree, is it a premonition of what's in store for Zaffan or is it a fellow tigress unbound by society's norms? In any case, the movie ends where it begins, as a celebration of a playful girlhood, unbothered by the pressures of the outside world. 

Although the concept of puberty causing a new, hairier alter ego for girls to appear and cause chaos is not new – see also “Turning Red” and the cult classic “Ginger Snaps” – “Tiger Stripes” immerses the viewer in Zaffan’s world and Malaysian folklore. Every culture has its monster stories to teach kids to behave and listen to their parents' warnings, but what if the monster was the child herself? As the film follows her struggle to remain normal, we see Zaffan washing her pad in the shower in the hopes the blood will come out and undo the damage its arrival has wreaked on her life or wearing thick sun-blocking gloves to hide the changes raging her hands and arms. But in suppressing her newly awakened monster side, she also seems to make her symptoms worse. Only when embracing her new self does Zaffan find joy.

Monica Castillo

Monica Castillo is a critic, journalist, programmer, and curator based in New York City. She is the Senior Film Programmer at the Jacob Burns Film Center and a contributor to

Now playing

Kalki 2898 - AD
Lumberjack the Monster

Film Credits

Tiger Stripes movie poster

Tiger Stripes (2024)

95 minutes


Zafreen Zairizal as Zaffan

Deena Ezral as Farah

Piqa as Mariam

Shaheizy Sam as Snake-oil exorcist

June Lojong as Munah



Latest blog posts


comments powered by Disqus