(NOTE: All thoughts and opinions in this review are derived from the experience and interpretation of the critic, a cishet individual, and in no way attempt to reflect or represent the greater LGBTQ+ community.)
The All Genders, Lifestyles and Identities Film Festival (aGLIFF) seeks to uplift and celebrate the LGBTQ+ community by providing a platform for the community’s creators and their stories. The festival will be held on August 22 through 25 at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. The festival showcases bold and unapologetic LGBTQ+ focused cinema and utilizes the medium to raise awareness of LGBTQ+ causes and interests.
“Conversion Therapist” is a fine example of unapologetic LGBTQ+ cinema and dances the razor’s edge of what the viewer can handle, while screaming its message at the top of its voice. The visceral horror short will be showcased in the fest’s “Late Night & Sexy Shorts” category.
In “Conversion Therapist,” a pansexual, polyamorous trio kidnap a “pray-the-gay-away” evangelical conversion therapist and torture him until he sees the light. The film is directed by Bears Rebecca Fonté (founder of the Other Worlds Film Festival) and stars Sara Fletcher, Michael Dickson, Evalyn Jake and Jordan Morgan.
The film presents a quintessential revenge fantasy through the lens of LGBTQ+ rage. Fonté brutally levels all of the trauma of conversion therapy straight back to the source in a manner that is both sickening and, somehow, satisfying. The horror of “Conversion Therapist” is equal parts body horror and the psychological terror of witnessing unyielding cruelty.
“Conversion Therapist” contains multitudes in its brief 20-minute run time. It brings into conversation the confusion and entrenched loathing that is used to unseat LGBTQ+ youths that endure the methods employed in conversion therapy. Alongside images of intense physical pain is the jarring usage of LGBTQ+ slurs and increasingly violent language. Each snarled line stings like a slap, and the line between hero and villain is blurred by a thick haze of vengeance and anger.
The film is very at home in the uncomfortable with its blatant criticism of conservative institutions, as well as its use of arguably problematic phrases that could cut multiple ways. It’s more than just a moment of reclamation; it’s a bloody conquest.
It is worth noting that such issues as reclaiming slurs and derogatory language have long been a controversy within multiple marginalized communities, and I think the decision ultimately speaks to the film’s purpose when it comes to the reaction it seeks to draw out.
Fonté cites the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, an act of terrorism against the LGBTQ+ community, as an inspiration for the film and placed emphasis on making “Conversion Therapist” a megaphone for the voices of the community. It was important to cast the film in a way that amplified those voices in equally effective ways. Mission accomplished.
The cast, while small, is incredibly effective, and I must heap the most praise on Evalyn Jake, who has all the freshness one would expect from a first-time actress but the strength of a seasoned pro. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. Hers is a star to watch.
So, in the end, does “Conversion Therapist” make me see the light? Yes and no, and I imagine any viewer will feel this way.
There is a hardness to this film that is borne out of the seriousness of the subject matter as well as the grim execution of vengeance. It offends without apology and speaks to the viewers’ darker nature. I liken it to the feeling of reading particularly upsetting news and feeling your blood boil before your brain has a chance to process it. That is what “Conversion Therapist” does.
It brings your blood to boil and requests that you not cool that sensation. It’s a very large and difficult ask for a viewer but, if they can commit to being uncomfortable, it’s therapeutic. This makes the piece deeply personal and sure to engage every individual viewer on a very different level.
“Conversion Therapist” will screen at aGLIFF on August 22, 2019, at 9:45 p.m. (U.S. Premiere) and August 23, 2019, at 9:30 p.m.
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Caitlin is a lean, mean writing machine based in Austin, TX. Her love of film began when she was shown “Rosemary’s Baby” way too early in life. Bylines include The Financial Diet and Film Inquiry. Caitlin is a member of the Online Association of Female Film Critics and the Women Film Critics Circle.