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They/Them Review

August 8, 2022 | Posted by Joseph Lee
They/Them Kevin Bacon Image Credit: Josh Stringer/Blumhouse
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They/Them Review  

* Kevin Bacon as Owen Whistler
* Carrie Preston as Cora Whistler
* Anna Chlumsky as Molly
* Theo Germaine as Jordan
* Anna Lore as Kim
* Monique Kim as Veronica
* Darwin del Fabro as Gabriel
* Cooper Koch as Stu
* Austin Chute as Toby
* Hayley Griffith as Sarah
* Boone Platt as Zane
* Mark Ashworth as Balthazar

Story: Kevin Bacon plays Owen Whistler in this slasher horror film set at an LGBTQIA+ conversion camp. Several queer campers join Whistler for a week of programming intended to “help them find a new sense of freedom”. As the camp’s methods become increasingly more psychologically unsettling, the campers must work together to protect themselves. When an unidentified axe murderer starts claiming victims, things get even more dangerous.

The very concept of They/Them seemed to generate a number of responses when it was originally announced. A queer slasher movie isn’t anything novel anymore. I remember seeing Hellbent promote itself almost twenty years ago and that wasn’t even true. But the idea of a slasher set at a gay conversion camp certainly is. And that’s why it drew reactions. Because in the wrong hands, it could feel extremely exploitative to have a bunch of kids like this, who are already going through torture, to also be killed off. Even a revenge story could be seen as exploitative if not done right. And with a title like They/Them (pronounced they-slash-them, get it?), you can see why people might be hesitant about this one.

Whatever you might have expected from this movie, it’s not exactly that and it is. It only feels exploitative in that all slashers are exploitation, but it’s not exactly exploiting the campers in the movie. For the most part (outside of an honestly hard-to-watch torture scene), the queer kids are treated with respect by the script. Several of them are given their own unique characters, memorable moments and are in the hands of a cast that will draw you in with their performances. The sex scenes (and yes, they exist. This is a slasher movie) feel like they’re there to advance the plot instead of titillate as they would in say, Friday the 13th. So at least in that aspect, the movie feels respectful. They/Them is a hell of a long way from Sleepaway Camp, which wasn’t exactly the kindest to gay or trans people.

The movie is an ensemble piece, headed up by Kevin Bacon as Owen Whistler, the leader of the aforementioned camp. And at first, you want to like him. Perhaps that’s the point. Because Kevin Bacon is such a good actor that he’s able to turn on the charm and make this guy seem like an ally to these kids. As you can tell from the poster, he is definitely not. But things aren’t even what they seem there. Because in addition to the horrors of a gay conversion camp, and there are plenty, there’s a masked psycho running around killing people. And that’s where the movie falls apart.

If They/Them where a character-driven psychological thriller about a group of teens fighting back against oppressive bigots, it could have really worked. And indeed, there are times in this movie where it really does work. Kevin Bacon is absolutely frightening in how he tries to manipulate and psychologically torture these kids. The script makes all of the older adults working at the camp instantly detestable, whether it’s forcing a trans woman to bunk with the boys or telling someone that’s nonbinary that they’re just “pretending.” And that’s not getting into the other, more intense stuff. The actual campers are as well-rounded as they can be and have several moments to make them people you care about watching.

The acting is never the problem here. The script, at times, is very good. The biggest problem is the fact that it’s a slasher film. Because it never fully commits to being a slasher film until the very end, and by that point it wraps up in a way that is completely formulaic and incompetent. Without spoiling anything, the reveal is very clumsy and takes away the impact of some of the deaths (especially those you wanted to see die). A backstory is shoved onto a character in the final few minutes as a way to kind to lead to…whatever message they were going for. That message? Gay conversion camps are bad but also murder is bad. Yes, movie. We are aware.

The slasher elements are so shoehorned in that when people are killed off, it can happen 20-25 minutes at a time. The story sucks you in, and then suddenly someone dies and you think, “Oh yeah, there’s a killer out there.” Whether the slasher elements were added for marketability or because writer/director John Logan had too many ideas in his script, who knows. But they were clumsy and brought an otherwise engaging movie down.

There’s a lot to like with They/Them, but unfortunately it gets bogged down in a lot of jarring tonal shifts. There’s plenty of worthwhile queer horror available that you don’t need to bother with this one, but there’s enough in it that it won’t totally waste your time.

The final score: review Not So Good
The 411
If They/Them were simply a character-driven psychological thriller like it wants to be, it could have been great. Instead, it has slasher movie elements shoehorned into it and completely falls apart by the end. There is a lot to like here, unfortunately it's stuck in a movie that's a total mess.

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They/Them, Joseph Lee