Release Date: 08/05/22 [Peacock]
Studio: Blumhouse Productions
"LGBTQIA+ empowerment tale set at a gay conversion camp."
OUR MOVIE REVIEW:
They/Them earns points for creativity. I’ll give it that.
The idea of a conversion summer camp blended with the bloody sensibilities of a slasher movie makes for a most intriguing idea. It’s ripe with possibilities, given the natural horror of the conversion camp method itself, and writer/director John Logan (making his directorial debut here) having penned the likes of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Skyfall and Alien: Covenant meant it had some valid clout behind its admittedly clever title; They slash Them. Get it?
Despite its rather bloodless opening, Logan’s film gets off to a decent enough start, leaning into its slasher mentality by offing a nameless woman before the opening credits; her car tire mysteriously blown, leaving her in the open for any masked killer to attack. It’s a promising (if tame) start for a film that would have us believe it’ll follow its Friday the 13th-style suit with a certain sense of humour.
Then we get the introduction of Owen Whistler (Kevin Bacon, another string to the film’s bow), the camp’s leader who, surprisingly, doesn’t sprout a speech about conversion or “changing” his camper’s view on their homosexuality or non-binary views. He wants everyone to come to their own conclusion. It’s, of course, all a design to throw us off so that when slasher shit starts to go down we eagerly await his demise – along with the other headfuck-cases that run the grounds – except Logan seems to forget he’s making a slasher and lets the carnage rest for an extended period of time. Now, there’s nothing wrong with character development in between kills, but so few of They/Them’s characters rise above their archetypes that it starts to feel as if the stalking sequences were an afterthought, rather than being organically ingrained into his script.
The non-binary Jordan (Theo Germaine) emerges as the natural leader of the campers, and they make for a fine presence on screen, as does the sassy Toby (Austin Crute) and the sweet, transitioning Alexandra (Quei Tann), but their prominence is also the result of a handful of campers being literal nameless and personality-void players who seem to just be there for the sake of filler; when they pop up later on during the expected chaotic moments of the finale, you’ll be forgiven for forgetting they existed prior.
Part of the fun of slasher films is their whodunnit element, and Logan opts to not punish his campers here for partaking in teenage drinking or fornication, rather looking at the staff themselves, which makes entire sense given they seem hellbent on twisting the fragile, queer minds of their visiting youths. But in that, the slasher element results in largely off-screen kills and because everyone is so vile there’s zero tension or emotional connection to when they are rightfully offed; only Anna Chlumsky’s ally nurse appears as the campers’ only advocate.
Falling flat on its attempts at humour (some hopeful “final girl” one-liners from Alexandra are particularly embarrassing) and incorporating a near song-and-dance number that’s far too on the nose (despite its promising message to the core audience) only adds to They/Them’s misguided tone, an ultimate shame as it has compelling personalities, it’s just unsure how to utilise them within its horror setting. A mess of good intentions.