Film Review – Zebra Girl (2021)

Stephanie Zari’s Zebra Girl first saw the light of day back in 2017 on the Edinburgh Fringe as one-woman play Catherine And Anita, starring the film’s lead, Sarah Roy. Over the past year, we’ve seen notable instances of stage plays making the transition to the big screen: One Night In Miami stood out from the crowd and next month sees the arrival of the Oscar winning The Father.

Zebra Girl doesn’t aim to keep the same company: its low budget and indie credentials are clear right from the start and, in truth, it’s some way short of those other titles. We’re set up for a horror of sorts from the opening shot of a house standing in the darkness, with all but one of its windows tightly closed. The horror – a bloody murder – materialises in a few short moments and, as the story unfolds, we’re taken into the world of Catherine (Sarah Roy), her relationship with husband Dan (Tom Cullen), who finds himself on the receiving end of a sharp knife, and a face from the past, Anita (Jade Anouka). We’re also taken into Catherine’s childhood as well, where abuse was the starting point of her many problems.

Catherine and Tom’s marriage is a picture of middle class affluence – an immaculate, detached house, without a speck of dust to be seen anywhere, her daily style of cashmere knits and pearls – and it’s all bathed in pink, from the bath towels to her clothes and anything in between. It makes for a setting that lends itself neatly to the tone of the first half, a horror/comedy pastiche, with a knowing sense of the ridiculous and dialogue deliberately engineered to add to the dark humour. And it works up to a point but, in a world where we’ve relished that combination of violence and comedy in the likes of, say, Killing Eve, it has its work cut out trying to give us something different. Despite being enjoyable enough, it doesn’t make the grade.

So, for the second half, it changes course, delving into more serious, disturbing subjects such as mental illness and child abuse and the tone becomes more threatening and sinister. The trouble is the two halves are clumsily stuck together so that the end result feels like an uncomfortable amalgam of two different films, with neither of them winning out. Curiously, it’s also only 1 hour 17 minutes long, so perhaps there are two shorts struggling to get out here but, either way, it’s a film that starts out promisingly but suddenly throws itself down a very dark hole.

In reprising the lead role, Sarah Roy gives the film some of the consistency it needs, capturing her character’s manic side, her insecurities and vulnerabilities. But for her to hold everything together is too big an ask and, by the time the story comes to an end, you’re left with more questions than answers from a film that feels both underdeveloped and desperately in need of something to make it distinctive.

★★


Horror, Thriller | Cert: 18 | Bohemia Media | Cinemas | 28 May 2021 | Dir. Stephanie Zari | Sarah Roy, Tom Cullen, Jade Anouka