Film Review: THE GRADUATES (directed by Hanna Peterson \ World Premiere at Tribeca Film Festival)

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by Kevin Vavasseur on June 15, 2023

in Film


In writer/director Hanna Peterson’s feature film debut, a group of high school seniors struggle through their last year together as the one-year anniversary of a horrific shooting at their school approaches. The close-knit teens are still reeling from the event itself, in particular the loss of the ringleader of their five person social circle. Genevieve (a stand-out Mina Sundwall) was this popular boy’s girlfriend and it’s her struggle we follow most. When Ben (a solid Alex R. Hibbert), who transferred out of the school after the shooting, unexpectedly returns for the year anniversary and reconnects with Genevieve and their other remaining friends, the unexpressed suffering, guilt, secrets and aimlessness these kids have been experiencing is finally exposed.

The aftermath of high school shootings is a very compelling subject and deserves more coverage and exposure. In Peterson’s very earnest first feature, the production relies too much on the inherent emotional pull of it’s topic to engage audiences and delivers an incomplete story that’s as aimless as it’s main characters. Between Sundwall, Hibbert and a moving Jon Cho as the murdered boy’s father, Peterson does create some affecting characters. However, her attempt to intertwine their storylines falters, and the film loses sight of whose story it is telling. While Peterson’s dialogue is stilted in parts, she does elicit very natural and grounded performances from her cast, particularly in a later scene where Sundwall and Hibbert open up to each other. Cinematography by Carolina Costa relies too much on very low lighting for effect and Peterson’s editing plays a little too much in close-up.

The Graduates demonstrates that life has to go on, even for high-schoolers. It’s just sad they have to learn that lesson as such a young age.

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