The Miseducation of Cameron Post Review

It feels like there have been more films exploring the damage of religious fundamentalism recently. With films like this, Apostasy and the upcoming Boy Erased, there is a trend at showing the darker, indoctrinating side of religion and the damage that it causes. This film though is unique from the other films by being told, both in story and in creative team, from a female perspective. The resulting film is a powerful look at the damage caused by conversion therapy.

Taking place in 1992, the film focuses on Cameron Post, a teenage girl who gets caught with another girl, her best friend, in the back seat of her boyfriend’s car on prom night, with her religious fundamentalist aunt sending her to a gay conversion therapy camp. Whilst there, Cameron is told all the things that, in the eyes of the camp leaders, have given her her same sex attraction, it being called same sex attraction since they don’t believe being gay is a real thing, and that it’s just temptation to sin, and struggles to come to terms with what is happening to her and how to react to the “treatment” she receives at the camp. What works wonders about the film is how it presents the camp. There’s a clear psychology behind the people who run the camp and you can tell that they genuinely believe what they are telling Cameron and the other people in the camp (who they call disciples). They genuinely believe that being gay is a horrifying sin and that the attraction is evil, and that therefore justifies the psychological torment they put people through. By showing this belief and the torment in a matter of fact way, it becomes more horrifying than any attempts to really justify the belief as it shows how deeply ingrained it is in them. It also works in showing the insane leaps in logic that are taken by the people running the camp to teach the attendees that there is something wrong with them, using love of sports, admiration of others talents and the environment they grew up in, even going into racial identity and traditional beliefs for different cultures (in this case Native American culture) and even Cameron’s name as reasons why they have fallen pray to “sin”, teaching the attendees that the cores of their personalities and their individuality are wrong, using the metaphor of an iceberg as part of the “therapy”, and the fact that this works is even more horrifying to watch. There’s also a cynicism behind the motivations of the guardians of the attendees for sending them to the camp. In one case it’s done as a political move, since the father of one of the people would not score well in evangelical areas having a gay son, whilst for Cameron herself, she was sent by her aunt and in a devastating phone call, Cameron hears her aunt say that Cameron should try, which helps to break her down. The fact that the psychological torture starts to work on Cameron and makes her feel disgusted with herself for being who she is and having the personality she has is horrifying.

That’s not to say the film is entirely dark though, there are a lot of moments of levity with the people in the camp bonding with each other. Cameron forms a strong friendship with two other attendees, Jane Fonda and Adam Red Eagle, and the bond that they share as they react to the camp is a source of inspiration, hope and relief throughout the film. A standout scene in the film is when Cameron starts singing along with What’s Up by Four Non Blondes and the joy and acceptance she feels whilst singing the song with the other teenagers around her is beautiful, which works well in contrast when one of the other teenagers sings along to a religious song for a karaoke night and lacks the passion and joy that Cameron has when she sings. There’s even some dark humour of the absurdity of the camp, from the whole idea of the icebergs to the use of actual Blessercize tapes to the obvious events that happen when two gay teenagers are put in a room together.

The performances meanwhile help to anchor the film. I’ve been a fan of Chloe Grace Moretz since Kick-Ass but I’ve felt that there have been very few films that have made use of her talents effectively. Here though, her talents are put to excellent use, resulting in probably her best performance to date. As Cameron, Moretz shows the moral issues that the camp has forced into her mind brilliantly, with the moments where she breaks down with the psychological torture inflicted on her working being heartbreaking to watch. Seeing her just get broken down throughout the course of the film so she becomes receptive to the camp’s treatment is a very difficult performance to make believable and Moretz does so, with the decision to focus mostly on her reactions working wonders for the emotional weight of the film, a small moment at the start of the film of her wiping off make-up setting up the core themes of the theme so much better through body language and reaction shots than dialogue could at this early stage. She also does a great job at balancing the levity in the film, making these moments feel believable and adding to the overall power of her character. John Gallagher Jr as Reverend Rick, who is himself a victim of conversion therapy is excellent as well, his is a very tough performance to give, having to balance the fact that he is torturing the teenagers with the fact that he was the victim of that torture himself, the sheer amount of psychological damage done to him convincing him that he’s doing the right thing, with a scene between him and Moretz near the end of the film being an emotional gut punch. Jennifer Ehle as Dr Lydia, the head “therapist” of the camp gives the film further power. There’s a sense of danger whenever she’s on screen, acting as an intimidating force which shows how she is effective at convincing the teenagers to hate themselves, and the conviction in the way she presents the ideology she has showing that she has convinced herself that she is right, which serves to make her more terrifying. Good comedic relief is provided by Sasha Lane as Jane and Forest Goodluck as Adam, who showcase their cynicism at the whole experience with the camp, showing how they don’t believe in any of it and have been forced there, and would probably be kept there for a long time because they lack the belief in Christianity that is forced on them, Goodluck in particular has a devastating scene near the end of the film which I won’t spoil here. Mention also has to be given to Emily Skeggs and Owen Campbell whose performances are just devastating here, showing how effective the indoctrination is and how much damage has been done to them, Skeggs shows how deep seated the desire to not be gay has been forced into her, making her ashamed of what she loves and who she loves, with one scene showing how her true desires and passions come out and the guilt she shows afterwards being a devastating reminder of the damage done to her, whilst Campbell gives a much angrier performance, but to say more would spoil the film.

The technical side of the film is impressive as well, mainly in terms of the direction and cinematography. What director Desiree Akhavan and DP Ashley Connor do with this film is focus on the smaller moments of the actors and the environment, highlighting the isolation that is seen in the camp and using the colour palette of the film to convey the differences in terms of how the characters are treated and the warmth that they feel. The best example I can think of for how this is shown is in the sex scenes Moretz has. If this was a male director, there would be a sense of eroticism to these scenes, but with women behind the camera, there’s a sense of intimacy and warmth to these scenes, the direction, cinematography and performances in these scenes showing the true nature of Cameron. These even tie into the theme of forcing people to be who they are not, with Cameron trying to imagine having sex with a man and it feels awkward and uncomfortable whilst the sex scenes with women have a warmth to them and it’s something that is made more believable by having women behind the camera and Akhavan being bisexual.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a film that is needed right now. With the themes that have become more prominent now with Mike Pence (who is an ardent supporter of conversion therapy) as Vice President, this is a film that does need to be seen. With a bisexual woman behind the camera with Desiree Akhavan, there’s a sense of honesty in the portrayal of same sex relations that some films lack, with the script she co-wrote aiding this, along with the incredible lead performance from Chloe Grace Moretz, which both add a sense of levity and hope to the film amid the horrors the film depicts, which helps to make this one of the most powerful films this year.

My Rating: 5/5

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