Boy Erased is a horrific and realistic depiction of a true story, one that is sadly relevant to current society. In one of the opening scenes, our narrating protagonist Jared (an understated 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 a sense of what is to come. When Jared enters the gay conversion centre he is asked to give up his phone and other personal items, essentially forfeiting all reminders of his former life, until his mother (Nicole Kidman) comes to pick him up. The red flag being that his mother doesn’t see any issue with this, or the much harsher tactics employed, as it is clear how important the therapy is to the family.
By begin at the conversion centre, where Jared was sent by his fiercely faithful Baptist preacher father (Russell Crowe), the film grabs the viewer quickly through its subdued and sinister tone. Sparingly using extended flashbacks, the emotional intensity of the film matches what occurs inside the facility. Much of the second act concentrates solely on Jared’s experiences with the head therapist Victor Sykes (an intense Joel Edgerton who also directs the film), which are shocking and inhumane. These religious fueled moments are awful and would be hard to believe if they weren’t true.
Boy Erased stumbles in its final act as the sense of immediacy drops entirely. The film feels inconsistent as a result of this despite many emotional and well-written scenes revolving around Jared’s family. In comparison to Edgerton’s previous directorial effort, The Gift, this is an impressive shift of gears. He maintains a feeling of dread throughout but the film is perhaps a little too restrained. While the film doesn’t hit as hard as the subject matter would suggest, Boy Erased must be seen to be believed.