Winner of the prestigious Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, director Desiree Akhavan’s wise film adapts Emily M. Danforth’s novel about a Montana teenager, Cameron (Chloë Grace Moretz), who gets caught exploring her lesbian leanings and is sent off to be “reprogrammed.” The “conversion therapy” camp, euphemistically called God’s Promise, is run by Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle) and her brother, Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.), according to stern, homophobic Christian principles. The duo use dubious methods to explore the root causes of the youths’ problems with “same-sex attraction” and “gender confusion,” aiming to redirect desires toward a “proper” heterosexual path.
When an investigator comes to the center regarding a bloody self-harming incident, he asks whether emotional abuse is part of the school’s agenda. “How is programming you to hate yourself not emotional abuse?” Cameron responds. Serving as the film’s emotional anchor, with a nuanced and slow-burning performance, Moretz gives a coolly compelling and believable turn whose young sexual awakening yields to her girlhood-into-womanhood rudely interrupted. Likewise, the film carefully avoids hysterical depictions of the conversion campaign, instead artfully dealing with realities of a volatile situation with too much relevance in the modern moment.