Review: The Perpetrators

Written and directed by Richard Squires, suburban London, the 1980s. A stranger in the family becomes a ghost child and awakens the monsters and desires of a queer childhood. Voiced by Art Erikson, Eric Geynes and Anthony Powell.

With gay cinema constantly moving forward into the era of acceptance and no longer having to focus on the hatred and bigotry of, mostly, the past, it’s usually only documentaries that we see the realism of how gay people were treated in the 20th century. The Perpetrators dives into the dark depths of the horrific propaganda that was spread in attempts to destroy the LGBTQ+ community, and encourage fear. It’s a strong reminder of how far society has come and how far there still is to go. It establishes the matching sombre tone to that message through a blend of animation and reality, capturing the nightmarish and outlandish accusations made against gay people.

The way that it traverses the issue makes it inherently accessible, with the tone of an informational children’s television show. It’s extremely poignant information but delivered in a way that’s surprisingly even toned. Its leading ghost child, voiced by Art Erikson, is the guide through these different versions of attacks against the community, doing so almost like an episode of Scooby Doo. He captures the fear, worry, anxiety and shame that go along with being fed such insanely harmful propaganda.

However, at the same time, choosing such an even tone comes with its disadvantages because it doesn’t allow the appropriate outrage to come through. It keenly reminds people of how important it is to continue forward progress but because it feels informational, it lacks punch. It would have been great to see it add an element of anger to push that reminder even further. Although, given that it’s attempting to see the events through the eyes of a young child, it’s understandable why Richard Squires made those choices. Yet unfortunately they add an extra layer of distance, which conflicts with the film coming from a personal place, it takes away from that theme of trauma that it’s attempting to tap into.

The Perpetrators has a fantastic concept to really drive home the ghastly tirade against the LGBTQ+ community in the 1980s and captures the nonsensical, outrageous nature of the propaganda. However, taking the route of viewing it through a child’s eyes and giving it an educational feel sadly takes away from its impact. It’s missing that knock out blow to capture the traumatic experience and the outrage, instead feeling hugely melancholic.

Verdict: ✯✯✯½ | 7/10

Reviewed as part of BFI Flare 2023

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