"This is bullshit. The whole place is crazy."
Overwhelmed and rarely scary, John Logan's They/Them boasts a horrifying premise surrounding a conversion camp in the middle of nowhere, USA. But Logan cannot capitalize on his concept. While the inclusive cast does generate excitement, the film yields little return for an audience expecting a genre game changer.
Kevin Bacon returns to his horror roots as Owen Whistler, the proud leader of __ __, a week-long queer conversion camp. As the new campers file off the bus, Owen attempts to make them comfortable. He wants them to be happy and know who they are. And who they are will become important as a crazed killer lurks in the shadows, preparing to take them out, one by one.
Highly stylized after 1980's Friday the 13th, They/Them attempts to showcase a combination of psychological, emotional, and physical horror. Bacon gives a satisfying performance as the camp's founder, his opening monologue one of the creepier moments in the film. His wife, played by Carrie Preston, serves as the camp doctor, taking possession of the group's medication and cell phones upon their arrival. Together they are the presumed power couple, though that dynamic never fully matures.
Theo Germaine stars as Jordan, a non-binary, trans person who is confident about who they are and uninterested in Owen's teachings. Jordan's pronouns give viewers a potentially new perspective of the "final girl" motif, though little is done or said concerning their placement within the camp. It's an unfortunate misstep, highlighting a long line of similarly ignored opportunities.
At dawn on the first morning, one camper sneaks off to shower. The moment alludes to a potential scare. But the horror proves more mental as a leader cries foul when they realize their perceived biological gender is not what they initially stated. But even that, an emotionally scarring experience, is kept at surface level, acknowledged and "corrected" within minutes.
Another moment has the group participating in a gender reinforcement exercise. The men, strapped with guns, take target practice. The ladies, wearing aprons, bake a pie. The entire situation is awkward, heavily plagued by a lack of authenticity.
It takes almost an hour for the film to arrive at its first camp kill. Sitting with bated breath, anxiously awaiting the masked killer's entrance, we watch as they continue to disappear into the shadows, a heavy dose of CGI selling their evasiveness. It's frustrating as we ponder whether Logan forgot he was making a slasher film–his focus on the psychological toll of the campers' experience an equal misfire. But the wait proves worth it as the film eventually kicks into high gear, offering an onslaught of murders in quick succession that send the camp into a state of panic.
To that end, They/Them delivers. Well, mostly.
As the body count begins to climb and the campers become aware of the situation, they scramble for safety. But while Logan has successfully highlighted several queer identities, he has failed to give them much of a pulse. Without a prominent main character, everyone is fair game. And without a better understanding of them, we aren't concerned with who lives, dies, or is behind it all. And though the disconnect can happen within the genre, the story's larger context makes it matter more here.
It's unfortunate. For decades the horror genre has been seen as queer-coded. Despite the often harsh mistreatment and unapologetic misrepresentation of LGBTQIA+ characters, the community has connected and supported the genre. They/Them had the opportunity to blow open the proverbial box and give audiences something entirely new. While it proves a step in the right direction, it also solidifies that there is a long road left to travel.
*This film is streaming globally on Peacock.