There were several walkouts during the screening I caught of Pervert Park. I don’t know what those people anticipated from a documentary about a community of sex offenders, but it is worth noting that however intense you think a film with that descriptor will be, this one will likely exceed those expectations. These sex offenders, some of whom committed absolutely insidious crimes, discuss said crimes with unsparing candor. Nothing about this film seeks to soften its subject matter.
What it does try to do is bring humanity to its characters. It’s a difficult proposition, especially in light of how it refuses to conceal their actions. But it works. These men and one woman tell their stories, and empathy is more powerful than the social conditioning that tells us all sex offenders are monsters. The truth is that many of them are themselves victims and that the system is failing to properly treat the abused, which perpetuates a cycle of further abuse.
There’s a righteous political vein that runs through the film, but it mainly leaves those sentiments in the mouths of its characters and only brings it up occasionally. There are no final title cards telling the audience what website they should go to or what hashtag they should post. It’s a character study first and foremost. While the emotion packed inside is potent, it’s sometimes undercut by the film’s odd construction. The way in which it doles out backstory for its characters doesn’t have any strong rhyme or reason to it.
In general, Pervert Park feels aimless, though this is somewhat keeping in tone with the Florida trailer park which is its namesake. While the doc is good, it feels like it was one round of editing away from greatness. Still, it’s an incredibly brave film. And a needed one.
This review was originally published during the Sundance Film Festival on January 26, 2015.