A group of men take part in an experimental treatment programme in order to try and cure themselves of their forbidden desires in the short film Inland Freaks.
In the UK, aversion therapy for men who declared themselves homosexual, peaked in the 60’s and 70’s. The ages at which some of these people received treatment ranged from 13 to 40 years old with most ‘patients’ being in their late teens and early 20s. The most common treatment was behavioral aversion therapy by electric shock, while nausea induced by injecting apomorphine direct to the bloodstream, was second.
For electric shock aversion therapy, electrodes were attached to the wrist, lower leg and sometimes even the genitals. Shocks were administered while the patient saw photographs of men and women in various stages of undress and by focusing on photographs of the opposite sex patients would avoid getting an electric shock. It was hoped that interest in same-sex photographs would reduce, while relief from not getting electrocuted would increase interest in images of the opposite sex.
Many patients who received apomorphine were often admitted to hospital due to side effects of nausea and dehydration, whilst those receiving electric shock aversion therapy would attend these courses for weeks, months and in some cases up to two years. These days this treatment is rightfully considered barbaric and inhumane and a less aggressive type of aversion therapy is now widely used. Director Kalainithan Kalaichelvan explores these new age therapies in his short ‘Inland Freaks’ and it is equally disturbing, riveting and powerful.
The short opens with a man, Mr. Miller, voluntarily signing up to something. A faceless voice is congratulatory; telling him things will be different and asking if he is nervous. He doesn’t need to answer we can tell that he very much is.
Mr. Miller is a Paedophile and has volunteered to lock himself away in this asylum to protect the children around him. But don’t be fooled, this is not One Flew Other The Cuckoo’s Nest with its array of colourful and somewhat playful characters. This is hell, literally and figuratively. In fact, Nurse Ratchet would be considered the comic relief in this hell hole.
The hospital in which the patients inhabit is a grim and grey prison-like building full of men suffering from the same urges. They wear the same uniform - a blue shirt with beige pants - and they all chant their anti-paedophile chant. These men are at their lowest ebb; pathetic and weak, they hate themselves and are looking for help to curb their illegal desires. However, all they seem to be given at this institute is more ill-treatment and more punishment. They are treated as animals, freaks, outcasts. There is no ‘cure’ for them here, no rehabilitation, just a place for them to wallow in their own self-pity and everyone else’s hatred.
Paedophilia is no longer as taboo a subject as it once was. It has been examined on screen many times before, most recently with Spotlight winning the Best Picture Oscar in 2016. Inland Freaks is no Spotlight, but it is a very original take on the subject matter. Rarely do we see paedophilia from the viewpoint of the perpetrator and that is exactly what we get with Inland Freaks. It’s a big gamble that Kelaichelvan takes because audiences are always looking for someone to relate to or sympathise with and during the film our only options are paedophiles.
But it is this gamble that pays off and sets the film apart, Inland Freaks is by no means an easy watch but it is an important one. It is our duty as human beings to try and understand the torment that other people go through when they have major issues that make it almost impossible to live a normal life, no matter who those people are.
As a film Inland Freaks is extremely well made and extremely difficult to watch, it will not be to everyone’s taste but as a study on the human condition, it is quite frankly unmissable.