Boy Erased tells the story of Jared Eamons, a young boy sent to a conversion camp, which presently remain legal in 36 American states. They are also still legal in the UK, although there are ongoing talks about banning them. Make no mistake, this film will affect you. It is disturbing. It will shock you. I could hear audible gasps in the cinema. It will probably make you cry if you have any heart at all.
I don’t want to pit this film against The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which recounts a similar story about a young girl. In fact, I find it wonderful that there have been two films on the subject so recently. However, this is a far darker take on the topic than Cameron Post, and viewers should bear this in mind.
Threat ripples through the cinematography even in the early stages of the film. Crosses glint everywhere, from the pen neatly tucked into the father’s pocket to the necklace nestling on the mother’s chest. Jared’s cheerleader girlfriend grins in a maroon uniform, her nails daubed the same bloody colour. When he first arrives at the conversion camp, before the horror really starts to unfold, director Edgerton plays masterfully with perspective. We see the boys’ faces pressed against the chain link fence, and the distant sound of a thwack. But no, it’s not corporal punishment — at least not yet — just an innocent game of baseball.
You can’t take your eyes off Nicole Kidman as Jared’s mother. Firstly she’s poised as a villain, startling with her white blonde bouffant, her piercing eyes glinting like the diamantes that adorn her white floral clothes. Over the course of the film, the ice queen melts, beating the door and yanking Jared out of the camp, trying in her own small ways to bridge the gap between her son and her husband.
Yet the film felt very true to life in that, although she acclimatised to her son’s sexuality, her husband’s opinions remain unresolved. In terms of casting, Troye Sivan is criminally underused; in fact I would have liked to see him in the main role. I found Lucas Hedges the only dud note in the film, and compared to him, Sivan completely steals the show. Another marvel is Edgerton, who not only directs masterfully but portrays the leader of the conversion camp, Victor Sykes. Edgerton is electric as Sykes, imbuing him with a cult leader’s energy and practically sizzling across the screen.
A word of caution about this film. There is a very graphic rape scene, not to mention frequent instances of psychological and physical abuse. I felt it was very unsuitable for its 15 rating and deeply disturbing. Anyone who is sensitive about any of these topics should take care. But if you can stomach it, you should see this film.
Often films try to pretend they are going to change the world — this one just might.