The Perpetrators


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

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"The animation interconnects, sometimes in the same image, with a beautifully recreated Eighties suburban world."

At a time when gay men – and LGBTQ+ people more widely – are increasingly being targeted by baseless associations with paedophilia, Richard Squires’ animated short recalls how the same moral panic manifested in the Eighties. Part of the 2023 BFI Flare selection, it addresses the media’s obsession with stranger danger (at a time when far more common abuse within children’s own homes was largely ignored) and the distorted representations of gay men supposedly responsible for preying on children.

These were always cartoonish figures, so it seems appropriate that Squires uses a cartoon format to examine them – one themed around that decade’s most iconic kids’ cartoon, Scooby Doo. Shaggy and the gang are not present here, but the style of the images is unmistakable, and there’s even a scene involving masks used to disguise a villain’s identity. This animation interconnects, sometimes in the same image, with a beautifully recreated Eighties suburban world.

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It all centres on a boy whom we see in cartoon form, peering through the windows of his parents’ home. He’s the ghost of a murdered child, but he also seems to represent something of the experience of growing up gay in that period and feeling excluded or even being thrown out of the family home. In the local library he reads about the homosexual menace, and it is from this that most of the film’s narration emerges. It’s a reminder of a not-too-distant world in which the bizarre imaginings of sexologists who couldn’t countenance that they were ordinary human beings were the only form of acknowledgement that many LGBTQ+ people had.

The presence of animated images in live action scenes creates a strong sense of otherness which is also reminiscent of the experience of trying to map those strange ideas onto real life. There’s a tacit examination of the then prevalent idea that LGBTQ+ people chose to be outsiders – that systems of mutual support are instead exclusionary cliques. A wreath on the door of the boy’s home points up the particular loneliness of Christmas for the bereaved and excluded alike.

A melancholy little tale which could not be more timely, The Perpetrators is a lesson in history which was and was not.

Reviewed on: 22 Mar 2023
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Suburban London, the 1980s. A stranger in the family becomes a ghost child and awakens the monsters and desires of a queer childhood.

Director: Richard Squires

Writer: Richard Squires

Starring: Art Erikson, Eric Geynes, Anthony Powell

Year: 2022

Runtime: 14 minutes

Country: UK


Flare 2023
EIFF 2023

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