A group of LGBTQ+ young adults finds themselves forced to attend a gay conversion camp haunted by a mysterious killer in They/Them.
The straight-to-Peacock Blumhouse offering is already the subject of some dismay from industry pundits, with many fearing the film could handle combustible issues in a careless light. I am happy to report that writer/director John Logan crafts They/Them with the utmost sincerity, but that goodwill does not compensate for an aggressively flat horror exercise.
Logan established a promising-enough foundation. The Oscar-nominated writer’s non-traditional horror background leads to a greater focus on character development as the film toils with the lingering pains of our camper protagonists. I credit Logan for representing LGBTQ+ perspectives without toxically exploiting the characters for a meaningless slasher. His approach elicits a few promising frames along the way, like a cheerful sing-a-long to a Pink track that rouses some much-needed positive affirmation.
Unfortunately, most of They/Them dredges in the tired formula of hokey after-school specials. The crowded character roster prevents the campers from developing an identity past one or two personality traits – a choice that truncates any meaningful sentiments into fortune cookie-level insights.
The young cast tries their best to elevate the material, but Logan straddles them throughout with inauthentic dialogue exchanges and archetype personas. Not even the sinister charisma of Kevin Bacon as the camp’s approachable yet quietly diabolical ring leader elicits much fear or authenticity for the experience.
As a horror vehicle, They/Them is a non-starter. Logan’s first directorial feature showcases his lack of experience in the horror genre. His flat stylistic choices prevent the film from developing any mystery or suspense, while the few horror setpieces are too cheaply-executed to inspire much fanfare (the movie does not become a horror movie until its final 20 minutes). There is merit in vying for a more subdued, character-driven horror experience, but Logan’s trite material and uninspired visuals only spotlight the film’s stiltedness.
It’s easy to see why Blumhouse opted for a straight-to-streaming release with They/Them. Despite noble intentions, Logan struggles to imbue his unique concept with the dramatic gravity and craft it deserves.
They/Them debuts on Peacock on August 5.
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