The term “gay conversion camp” conjures hellish images that make my stomach drop. It makes me think of our Vice President’s support of electroshock therapy. In The Miseducation of Cameron Post (directed by Desiree Akhavan) the titular character Cameron (Chloë Grace Moretz), is sent to the gay conversion camp God’s Promise by her evangelical Aunt after getting caught with another girl at prom. God’s Promise is nothing like I expected it to be, with Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle) running the camp similar to a strict boarding school combined with a rehab center. The authority figures are friendly, and there is no physical abuse, just lots of “therapy.” The film soon makes it clear that Dr. Lydia Marsh and her “converted” brother, Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.) believe that these teenagers are fighting a disease similar to addiction and genuinely want to help the kids get better; they have the same mindsets as those who run drug rehabilitation centers, only their beliefs are wildly twisted and misguided. While God’s Promise isn’t necessarily as scary on the surface as the camps I was picturing (which also exist, not all of them are non-violent like the one portrayed in this film,) what’s terrifying about God’s Promise is the plausibility that a camp run in this manner could actually brainwash a teenager into rejecting their true self. Teenage years are some of the most impressionable, so I imagine it is quite easy to second guess who you are when adults, who clearly want what is “best for you,” constantly throw religious guilt in your face.

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The pacing of Cameron Post is one of its many highlights. There wasn’t a single scene that lagged or a moment that was cut short. Part of what helped the film flow so beautifully were the occasional random flashbacks that happen in the middle of present-day scenes. This was done sparingly, but just enough to keep the audience on its toes and break up the straightforward, linear narrative. General structures and arcs in movies are pretty easy to recognize, which is helpful for estimating how far through a movie you are at any given time; however with Cameron Post, the film felt so organic and unstructured that my perception of time disappeared entirely, leaving me unsure of where in the story arc I was. This made for a more unpredictable and immersive experience than most, so when the film ended, I was shocked, as it felt as though it had just begun.

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Moretz decided it was time for a change – specifically, a change in the kinds of films she makes and is known for. Completely switching the trajectory of your career as an actor is quite the endeavor. Some of have succeeded, such as Kristen Stewart, Matthew McConaughey and Robert Pattinson, but even more have failed. Moretz decided she wants to act in meaningful films; films that have something important to say. Not only did Moretz choose wisely in picking Cameron Post, but this is by far the best performance I’ve seen from the prolific 21 year-old. From an actress who always brings a powerful voice to her characters and usually plays them as big as possible, she was surprisingly subtle and understated here.

I love how diplomatic Cameron is. Usually in film protagonists are stubborn and stand up for what they think is right at all times, no matter what the circumstances, but in Cameron Post we see a realistic portrayal of a teen who recognizes that she’s outnumbered. Cameron has never met an openly gay person, doesn’t know anyone who is accepting of homosexuality, and has just been shipped to a gay conversion camp where the staff believe that her sexual orientation is a sickness. She has never had a role model to empower her or inspire her to stand up for what she believes in, so how could we expect her to do so? Cameron nearly always responds to the disgusting drivel spouted from the camp’s staff with a simple “ok;” she says “ok” more times than I can count. The choice to have Cameron act diplomatic publicly while rebelling in the shadows truly blew the film wide open, as this sort of protagonist is rare.

Sasha Lane, who had her break in the cinematic-journey American Honey, reaffirms that she is a complete natural. Lane approaches her craft with a calm confidence that most actors lack, and this may be the result of how she got her start in acting. Following the likes of Rosario Dawson and Chloe Sevigny, Sasha Lane was discovered on the street; rather than the usual career route of auditions after auditions until finally landing a role, Lane was simply approached one day while she was at the beach. Her character in Cameron Post is the incredibly cool Jane Fonda, a name that showcases her sense of humor. She and her good friend Adam Red Eagle (portrayed by Forrest Goodluck, who has a serious knack for deadpan humor) know exactly who they are and remain strong in their self acceptance. Jane and Adam are a total shock to Cameron, who as I said before, had never met an openly gay person before. Sending Cameron to God’s Promise and exposing her to people like Jane and Adam may in fact do the reverse of what of what her evangelical Aunt had in mind.

[MINOR SPOILERS] The film just sort of comes to an ends, without the usual dramatic turmoil involved in most indie-dramas, but instead with a quietly triumphant and meditative moment that is equal parts 400 Blows and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. While this is by no means a happy film, it closes on a hopeful and somewhat positive note that cuts through what could’ve been an entirely demoralizing story. [END SPOILERS] I think The Miseducation of Cameron Post could be a very important film, as it has the potential to inspire hope and show members of the LGBTQ community who haven’t had exposure to other gay or queer people that they are not alone.

Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck, Jennifer Ehle, and John Gallagher Jr.

Director: Desiree Akhavan

Running Time: 91 Minutes

Release Date: August 3rd, 2018

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