The opening moments of this film instantly grab the viewer. In one of the first scenes, narrating, protagonist Jared (a locked away Lucas Hedges) says, to paraphrase: “I wish to god this had never happened. But at the same time, I’m glad that it did.” This immediately gives the viewer something to think about as to what exactly is coming next. Another key early moment is also unmissable: when Jared enters the gay conversion centre, he is asked to give up his phone for the entire day until his mother picks him up, as well as all other personal items. An instant red flag for what is to come, and the way his mother (Kidman) doesn’t see this as an issue at all is the first hint as to how important the therapy is to the family. Increasingly strict rules soon follow. These moments successfully create a muted, sinister tone almost immediately. All following scenes in the centre share this restrained feeling of tension. The film has an incredibly realistic feeling that does justice to the memoirs it is based on.
Having the film begin almost immediately at the conversion centre is a perfect way to quickly hook the viewer, and is balanced by the sparing use of extended flashbacks, their emotional intensity matching what is happening inside the centre. One scene in particular quite distressing. They provide more than enough to portray why Jared was sent to the centre originally by his father (Russell Crowe), a fiercely faithful Baptist preacher whose beliefs seem to supersede being a good father.
It is impossible to not briefly think of how it could be like to grow up in such surroundings as a young gay man. During an extended flashback in which Jared comes out to his parents, he talks like he is in a confession booth, apologising and speaking as if he an animal for committing this supposedly mortal sin. As if he has done something awfully wrong.
Edgerton has said that he didn’t want to throw the church ‘under the bus’ with his new film, but as the conversion centre is run by a church, in addition to the reason for him being sent there, this isn’t possible. It is faith that drives these acts, faith in a book that says homosexuality is not only a sin, but it is also something that must be removed, or converted.
The flashbacks cease as the second act concentrates solely on Jared’s experience inside the centre, which is unsurprisingly horrid, but still, some of the actions of the man who is in charge (an intense\ Joel Edgerton) are shocking and inhumane, and religion is again what drives him. Jared’s stay is filled with awful and awfully memorable moments that would be hard to believe if they weren’t true. One sequence still intently stands out from this disgusting mess, a testament to how drawing the story is and how it is presented: filled with tension as the behaviour of the staff becomes increasingly deranged.
The film is let down by its final act, in which the immediacy drops entirely. It has many emotional and well-written moments which revolve around Jared’s family, and the film is punctuated by an emotionally charged moment. It works, and the film is great, but it certainly feels inconsistent in this respect.
In comparison to his previous effort, The Gift, this is an impressive shift of gears, while maintaining the feeling of dread that was apparent in The Gift. Here, this feeling is presented in a very different way, though it is perhaps a little too restrained, as the movie doesn’t hit as hard as the subject matter would suggest.
Boy, Erased is an almost horrific, realistic depiction of a true story that is sadly relevant to society of today. Unfortunately it is the villains of the film (Edgerton in particular, as well as Crowe) that are the most believable, while the family, Kidman and Hedges, offer great performances, but again. one can’t help but feel that their turns should have had more impact. Hedges in particular is locked in a shell for almost the entire film, making it hard to judge his performance. It also doesn’t help that he discovers the truth of the centre early, again hurting the suspense. However. setting all this aside, Boy, Erased is an incredible true story that must be seen to be believed.
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