Film review: Boy Erased is a sensitive and bold critique of conversion therapy
IN 2004 19-year-old Baptist preacher's son Garrard Conley willingly entered a Love In Action facility in Tennessee to purge the homosexuality, which put him at odds with his family's religious zeal.
These camps are legal in the vast majority of American states and condition residents to believe that a person's sexuality is tightly handcuffed to their happiness.
Conley's nightmarish experiences of conversion therapy informed a bestselling memoir, Boy Erased, and writer-director Joel Edgerton sensitively plunders this heartfelt text for a deeply moving and unsentimental dramatisation.
The film-maker casts himself as the pious counsellor in charge of malleable minds, who are encouraged to chant, "I am using sexual sin and homosexuality to fill a God-shaped void in my life."
Words cut to the bone and Lucas Hedges is heartbreaking as the teenage witness to controversial practices, which some might call mental and physical torture, including one harrowing scene of a family striking their terrified son with a Bible to drive out Satan from his body.
Russell Crowe offers robust support as the holy man, who demands heterosexuality as a condition of living under his roof, and Nicole Kidman is mesmerising as the dutiful wife and mother, who allows her beautiful boy to be subjected to treatment because as she notes, "They say sometimes, you've got to hurt a child in order to help them."
Jared Eamons (Hedges) is determined to live by the words of his preacher father Marshall (Crowe), who towers over the congregation and his wife Nancy (Kidman). The shy and unassuming college freshman has a cheerleader girlfriend but he cannot deny his sexuality forever.
He is cruelly outed by a spiteful classmate.
"I think about men. I don't know why. I'm so sorry," Jared tells his broken parents, who enrol him in a Love In Action programme that promises to 'fix' their son.
Victor Sykes (Edgerton) runs the two-week course, where Jared meets Sarah (Jesse LaTourette), Gary (Troye Sivan), Jon (Xavier Dolan) and Cameron (Britton Sear).
"Tell them everything they need to hear and play the part," pithily advises Gary, who is faking his rehabilitation.
Boy Erased is emboldened by haunting performances from the three leads, particularly Hedges, who is beautifully understated.
The script comes down firmly on one side of the conversion therapy argument and preaches quietly yet powerfully to the outraged.
"I wish to God that this had never happened but sometimes I thank God that it did," confides Jared.
We give thanks for Edgerton's haunting picture.
BOY ERASED (15, 115 mins) Drama/Romance. Lucas Hedges, Joel Edgerton, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Jesse LaTourette, Troye Sivan, Xavier Dolan, Britton Sear, Joe Alwyn, Theodore Pellerin, Madelyn Cline. Director: Joel Edgerton.
Released: February 8 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)