'They/Them' review: Inclusive camp slasher misses the mark
Courtesy of Peacock
Hoping to put a horror twist on gender identity while paying homage to “Sleepaway Camp” and “Friday the 13th,” the inclusive new slasher “They/Them” (they-slash-them, get it?) won’t get knocked for its groundbreaking approach to the genre, but little exists that’ll help writer and director John Logan’s film withstand the test of time. Instead, “They/Them” doesn’t know which direction to take: A slasher movie? Or psychological thriller about conversion therapy? It tries doing both and never grasps the thrills and chills it’s desperately wanting to conjure. Even a calm and sadistic performance from Kevin Bacon, a “Friday the 13th” alum, can’t ratchet up the tension, resulting in what feels like a half-baked slasher episode cut from a season of “Glee” or “Riverdale.”
While the film explores important subject matters around the innate danger conversion camps pose to LGBTQIA+ youth, “They/Them” wastes any potential in favor of a hollow narrative with a hilariously predictable outcome. There was a sense “They/Them'' might have redefined the DNA of the slasher formula: which usually follows a group of horny white kids trying to survive the night only to get impaled by various sharp objects, but Logan, who himself is a three time Oscar nominee with scripts “Gladiator,” “The Aviator” and “Skyfall” under his belt, can’t steer this personal project beyond the limitations of the story.
“They/Them'' begins with promise, at least offering a willingness to fight against the genre’s notorious cliches and create a new slasher playbook. For a stretch, this approach is entertaining as the set-up introduces a wonderful, diverse crew of characters who have been thrown under the watchful eye of counselor Owen (Bacon) at a secluded camp designed to rid them of their sinful ways: i.e: being transgender, gay or otherwise. The cast includes: Theo Germanie, Quei Tann, Austin Crute, Monique Kim, Anna Lore, Cooper Koch, and Darwin del Fabro as the “campers” who have been incentivized to attend by their parents for either emancipation privileges and, for some, something as simple as concert tickets.
Since “They/Them” was marketed as a slasher (and the opening minutes features a gruesome thrashing), you start to wonder why, nearly 40+ minutes later, nobody else had bitten the dust. Peacock has asked reviewers to withhold said information, but it does feel like a cheap, unearned bait-and-switch. Needless to say, the suspense in “They/Them” doesn’t rely on a masked killer (despite one running around), rather, the torture Owen and his smarmy group of counslors impose on the campers, but even then, it doesn’t register until it’s already late in the game. The long stretches of uneventful activity-and an impromptu belting of Pink’s “Fucking Perfect”-stifle the films true intentions, which is to showcase how these “camps” feast on the participants insecurities and weaponize them into bouts of depression and anxiety.
But it’s evident Logan doesn’t have a stern eye for building tension within the confines of a horror movie (or maybe this wasn’t the correct project to attempt it with), though he can write sensible and realistic dialogue among individuals. Short term, “They/Them” is a welcome notch for on-screen representation and will give those in the LGBTQIA+ community something worth celebrating, but the long term effects could yield different results. Most will look back on the film with disappointment, wishing the final product was better than the initial set-up and the talent of this ensemble wasn’t squandered on a movie that couldn’t figure out its own identity.
THEY/THEM debuts on Peacock Friday, August 5th.