I’m on the fence about “Conversion Therapist”. On one hand it feels like they are trying to include any and every little queer bit they can think of into what should be a simple abduction/torture storyline. It ended up suffering from having too much happening that the strong points are lost and get muddled. Yet on the other, it’s equally well done. Professionally shot, with talented acting, and plenty of blood, gore, and of course, circular saws! And the few “twists” along the way – THOSE were quite interesting! Definitely check out this short film.
Synopsis of “Conversion Therapist”
Arriving home, a little girl’s mother tucks her in while the babysitter, Justine (Sara Fletcher), flirts with the father, Ira (Michael Dickson). There’s a hint of sexual play between both of them, which Justine takes advantage of. Slipping off her panties before Ira drops her off at home for the night, she tells him to beg her to sniff her panties – and he does! Except Justine shoves them back in Ira’s face and suddenly Ira blacks out. When he comes around, Ira is bound to a chair in front of Justine and Clay (Jordan Morgan). It turns out that Ira is an evangelical priest who runs a “pray-the-gay-away” conversion camp and further, made public remarks after the Orlando massacre that really pissed off Justine. To get revenge, Justine plans to torture Ira until he begs to suck Clays’s cock and profess that he’s a closeted faggot. When Ira blatantly refuses, Justine brings out the vice grips and gives him a good whacking.
When Ira next wakes, it’s the next morning. Salina (Evelyn Jake), Justine’s polyamorous partner, gets to play babysitter to Ira. But when Justine returns later that night, she is not in a good mood – and wants to play! After roughing Ira up a bit more, Justine reveals her plan: to give Ira a choice to “convert” like he forced every gay boy he “treated” – or die. Ira soon gets a bit lost watching videos of Justine talking to him, using brainwashing tactics typical for conversion “treatment” centres. After what feels like days have passed, Ira realises he has an opportunity to escape! Naturally, Justine catches him and decides to up the ante – she uses a circular saw on him, drawing a pool of blood and eliciting screams. After finally waking the morning after, Ira realises he can’t feel anything – his hands were literally cut off! But Justine is only just starting because it’s clear that Ira refuses to repent his wicked ways and admit he’s a faggot. Selena confronts Ira personally, recalling how Ira had abused him back when he was a confused and trans thirteen year old boy!
Finally ready to finish things off, Justine grabs a pair of hedge clippers and gives Ira until the count of five to repent and beg to suck Clay’s cock – or she’ll cut off his cock; but he has to hurry before the “others” arrive. As she counts, Ira is pissed off and refuses and swears that the police will find him and they’ll all be sentenced. Except they won’t, as Justine reveals the final part of their plan: they’ve sold Ira to organ harvesters from Costa Rica – and Ira’s wife recorded a tender farewell message, aka “fuck you”. Turns out they were all in on the plot from the beginning. While Ira gets dragged away, Selena gives Clay a kiss, before making out with her partner, Justine.
Like I noted, it’s hard to pinpoint how I feel about “Conversion Therapist”. The point of the story is actually well thought out and is something I don’t think we have seen before! The concept of a former gay conversion camp “patient” taking revenge on the pastor who belittled, brainwashed, and tortured them certainly falls within the horror genre. I was actually excited based off the quick synopsis! The trouble is, that’s not Justine’s reason for revenge and it’s Justine who is running the kidnap/torture “therapy” session. Plot-wise, there are questions still left unanswered even after “Conversation Therapist” has wrapped up – I still don’t quite understand Justine’s connection to Ira and her motivation in the plot, other than being the partner to Salina. And while Salina’s revelation is profound – it doesn’t go anywhere; it’s still Justine running the show. Why?
Lastly, I feel like the script itself actually got boggled down by unnecessary fluff. It’s easy to catch the reference to post-Orlando homophobic remarks and the anger they caused within the Queer community – but if that’s Justine’s motivation, she actually comes across as the crazy psycho-bitch rather than a vigilante trying to rid the world of hate. Rather than continue to build up the story, it came across as negatively affecting the other key points; Selena’s admission should’ve been the key reason, but we lost that momentum before we even arrived. Yet for these negative issues I have with the script, the twists within “Conversion Therapist” are definitely quite a twist! I loved the revelation that not only will Ira never be found again (even if he does meet their demands), but that Ira’s wive was actually involved in the plan from the start. There’s just something about spousal revenge in a horror film!
The other elements in “Conversion Therapist” were just as mixed. The special effects were decent given the lower budget of a short film; we had plenty of blood and gore, especially when Justine cuts off Ira’s hands. (Although I would’ve loved to have seen that as it happened, not just an aside blocked because his hands were behind his back.) While the camera shots and angles started off smooth and steady prior to the kidnapping, they balanced out the rage and torture in later scenes. We actually start to feel brainwashed ourselves because of the unsteady and partially out of focus camera while trying to listen to the video of Justine speaking. The acting was just on par; again, nothing exceptional but believable – mostly. Like I noted above, I question the demure calmness of Salina having to confront her former conversion abuser. And in a few moments, Justine really evokes the crazy psycho-bitch with a chainsaw card that was just a bit too over the top to be realistic.
While it did not stand out as an exceptional horror short, “Conversion Therapist” definitely does a great job at representing Queerness within the horror genre! It’s also a decent short film, balancing the line between drama and horror with a dash of comedy thrown in. Unfortunately, the few issues I had with the short took away my full enjoyment. But if you enjoy horror of the torture variety, give “Conversion Therapist” a watch – perhaps you’ll enjoy it!