There’s an exciting horror film trapped beneath “They/Them,” but everyone involved refused to let it out.
Horror remains the best platform to entertain while sending a message. It’s not a slam-dunk formula, though. Too many filmmakers focus so hard on the latter they forget they’re making a genre film.
“They/Them” counts as Exhibits C, D, E and F. Maybe G-Z, too.
Kevin Bacon gives it his all as Owen Whistler, the head of a gay conversion camp. Except Owen’s heart doesn’t seem to be in it from the jump. His opening scene welcoming the gay, bisexual and trans campers is like something out of a GLAAD pamphlet.
He speaks of love, acceptance and safe spaces. No hate, fear or anger. Sounds like he’s lousy at his job, right? If you’re an intolerant parent looking to convert your gay child, the camp’s Yelp reviews alone would keep you away.
Then again, nothing in this amateurish production makes much sense.
Maybe we’ll see Owen slowly rescind those wonderful promises. Instead, the slapdash story can’t settle on a tone, let alone a character arc for poor Bacon. Did he lose a bet and find himself stuck in this Peacock original?
One early sequence attempts to build a sense of dread. All we get are a few images of ventriloquist dummies, the laziest attempt to strike up some atmosphere.
Audiences may need Post-It notes on their screens to remind them it’s a horror movie.
Add clunky romances, endless dialogue that would make a Hallmark movie scribe cringe and an embarrassing dearth of scares and you’ve got a missed opportunity on an epic scale.
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“They/Them” even stops cold mid-film for not one but two seduction scenes back to back. Can someone remind writer/director John Logan he’s making a horror film? It seems he forgot.
Horror movies often employ the “slow burn” technique, building up characters and scenarios to prepare us for the thrills ahead. “They/Them” takes forever to even approach a scare sequence, but that time is spent with bland empowerment speeches and predictable revelations.
- This is my truth!
- I want to live my authentic life!
- Intolerant counselors have their own gay urges!
Poor Anna Chlumsky of “Veep” fame. Her role makes so little sense it’s like she wandered on set without so much as a script outline to guide her way.
It’s hard to pick one sequence as the film’s nadir, but the film’s sing-a-long merits strong consideration.
“THEY/THEM” is now available to stream on Peacock! pic.twitter.com/zI1vbGGuE0
— Affinity Magazine (@TheAffinityMag) August 5, 2022
The craziest part of “They/Them” is the talent behind the scenes. Logan penned “Skyfall,” arguably the best Bond film in a decade. He’s also the screenwriter behind the cruelly underrated “Rango” and “The Last Samurai” with three Oscar nominations to his credit.
So why does his screenplay read like an LGBTQ chat room forum?
Logan is the furthest thing from a Hollywood hack, but you can’t tell it from his directorial debut. He shows zero instincts as a horror auteur. It’s as if the genre in question never crossed his mind.
His characters may be refreshingly distinct for a horror film, but they lack an inner life. Their sexuality defines them, and the film doesn’t allow enough quiet moments to make them relatable, let alone entertaining.
Their collective pain is palpable, and the young cast does an admirable job of showing their alienation. It’s the best part of the movie, but it’s dwarfed by the film’s flaws.
There’s a mystery behind the slasher stalking the camp, but the film can’t even hide the reveal long enough to make it count.
We’re left with a thriller that deserves its rightful place in the year’s “Worst Of” list.
HiT or Miss: “They/Them” is woke to its core, but that isn’t its fatal flaw. It’s cartoonish, scare-free and so intent on empowerment it skimps on every horror movie essential.