They/Them (2022) Preaches More than It Slashes
First Non-Festival Release: August 5, 2022 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: John Logan
Writer: John Logan
Runtime: 104 Minutes
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Theo Germaine, Quei Tann
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Whistler Camp welcomes a new batch of LGBTQ youth for a week-long conversion therapy program that doesn’t aim to change who they are unless that is what they truly desire. This is the promise of Camp Director Owen (Kevin Bacon). Jordan (Theo Germaine) is suspicious of his intentions but complies anyway with hopes that their completion of the program will allow them to emancipate themselves from their unaccepting family. They must contend with the staff that covertly find ways to get under the camper’s skin and sew chaos. That is, until a mysterious masked stalker begins killing hacking their way across the campgrounds.
Dull, preachy, and unintentionally hilarious, They/Them is a relatively bloodless slasher that squanders the potential of its premise.
Before devolving into the usual cliches and cringy dialogue, the cold open is reasonably tense despite some atrocious special effects. Unfortunately, this sets the tone perfectly for the film that viewers get in They/Them. Viewers are greeted by Owen’s sunny surrogate dad routine explaining how the camp runs and what the teenagers can expect in their stay. A few more exposition dumps later and the central characters are introduced with their rationale for attending. While it’s nice to see a variety of personalities and rationales for attending, the large cast makes deeper characterization difficult.
Billed as a slasher, They/Them works slightly better as a psychological horror drama. Aside from its opening kill, this Blumhouse production attempts to get in the viewer’s good graces by foreshadowing all the potential killer moments of the film. Due to its twist, however, this feels null by the time it reaches the sloppy conclusion. The motivation of the killer is painfully obvious, and the methodology of their attack renders a majority of the cast safe from slashing. It sucks the tension out of the film and makes it more of a chore to finish than something to enjoy.
They/Them has an unshakable commitment to preaching and delivering a message over crafting a strong story. This manifests in on-the-nose musings on how better the campers are than the staff and confrontations of self-doubt when characters fight back against their abuse. Not once, but twice, They/Them uses the most egregiously cheesy avenue of inserting an early 2010s P!nk song about self-acceptance into the narrative. There’s no self-awareness or nuance to the characters. Even the motivation of the killer could have used some re-shaping to make it more interesting instead of the flat and obvious route they take.
It offers a very black and white outlook on the identity development of sexual orientation and gender, as well as those who push back on non cis-heterosexual people. As a gay man, this reviewer one hundred percent believes in living your truth. It is another thing to suggest, however, that one song and dance moment out of ‘Glee’ is going to break down the closet doors for every one of these struggling teens. They/Them is more concerned with setting up its LGBTQ characters as martyrs and saints without giving them much to really do. The lessons learned feel better suited for an after school program than a serious, or campy for that matter, horror film.
Beyond all the problems with the film’s story, its production woes are just as poorly executed. The ensemble struggles to bring their characters to life authentically. Mumbling through the clunky dialogue and having all the subtlety of a TikTok acting challenge, there is little done to convince viewers that anyone is in any danger, physical, psychological, or otherwise. There is also this irritating and confusing issue with the sound quality that shows up in nearly every suspenseful scene of the film. Just as the action rises, the film noticeably quiets down before propelling back up to a normal volume once the fall ends. Its aesthetically dull in setting and photography and is unappealing to all the senses by the time it takes full shape.
Despite its glaring flaws, there are a few things that They/Them does do right, particularly in its jumbled handling of its social commentary. There’s an exceptionally terrifying scene of two counselors instigating sexual intercourse in the most chilling way that shows the depravity of conversion therapy. Speaking of which, They/Them does implement some insidious methods of the debunked practice including more digestible talk therapy and the more extreme aversion therapy. These moments are appropriately upsetting and add an element of tension to a relatively thrill-less horror film.
What should be a winning combination of representative casting and a timely premise deteriorates into a made-for-Tumblr after school special gone wrong. Sloppy writing leads to inconsistent characterizations, unintentionally humorous moments, and the most apparent reveals possible. Below-average production values and wooden acting from most of the cast make it difficult to enjoy this stiff and moralistic pseudo-slasher. Capturing the terror of its setting only when it truly leans into the horror of conversion therapy, this modern slasher is best left to collect dust on Peacock where it belongs.
Overall Score? 3.5/10