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Movie Review: ‘They/Them’ Is a Profoundly Misguided Slasher Picture

Movie Review: ‘They/Them’ Is a Profoundly Misguided Slasher Picture

Director: John Logan

Writer: John Logan

Stars: Kevin Bacon, Anna Chlumsky, Theo Germaine, Carrie Preston, and Quei Tann. 

Synopsis: A group of teenagers at an LGBTQ+ conversion camp endures unsettling psychological techniques while being stalked by a mysterious masked killer.

They/Them should be lauded for its inclusive cast and crew, predominantly comprised of gay, trans, and non-binary actors and directed by an openly gay filmmaker. But the praise pretty much stops here, as John Logan’s directorial debut is one of the most embarrassing films of the year. It desperately wants to be the LGBTQ+ version of classic slashers like Friday the 13th and Sleepaway Camp, and yet its slasher focus is a pure afterthought. Logan wrote Gladiator, The Aviator, and Hugo, which were all nominated for Academy Awards, and could’ve crafted a great slasher with They/Them. But since he ignores the slasher aspect for most of the film, the rest of it is a dull and thinly-developed character drama. 

The movie instead follows a group of LGBTQ+ teens arriving at Whistler Camp, a conversion camp led by Owen Whistler (Kevin Bacon). Immediately, he tells them that he will not forcefully convert them if they do not want to be converted and understands that many of them are here because their parents forced them to. He also assures the teens that this is a safe and inclusive space, even if he consistently (and purposefully) misgenders Jordan (Theo Germaine), a non-binary teen who uses they/them pronouns. And the movie follows Jordan as its sole protagonist, who progressively uncovers the dark nature of the camp and sees something sinister lurking underneath Owen’s “friendly” and “inclusive” persona. Meanwhile, a serial killer is on the loose and slowly starts to kill the camp’s employees. But since the film never truly focuses on the killer (which may be the sole reason why people are watching this), the stakes feel low, and the rest of the movie is a slog to watch. 

Logan focuses on Owen’s psychological of the campers through micro-aggressions before he moves into pure physical torture through aversion therapy. The scene is difficult to watch, but when the campers suddenly break into a rendition of P!NK’s F**ing Perfect, for absolutely no apparent reason, one wonders what the movie actually wants to say about gender identity. And it becomes clear that Logan has nothing meaningful to say about any of the themes he presents and prefers to subject its characters to exploitative scenes of torture until the killer appears and starts his [off-screen] killing spree. 

That’s right, most of the film’s murders are done off-screen, despite its TV-MA rating. And when the main aspect of the movie fails, everything else will also inevitably fail. The LGBTQ+ characters are poorly written and developed. Jordan is the strongest character in terms of development because the audience spends the most time with them, but it still isn’t enough for us to care about anyone involved. We never feel like the characters are in imminent danger, since the movie never adopts the structure a slasher like this should have. One body gets discovered, which puts the camp on high alert, with the murderer taking down other people one by one until the stakes become real. But since the killer rarely appears in the movie, the emotional catharsis Logan attempts to build never occurs. 

That being said, the actors do a good job with their respective roles, particularly Bacon who is profoundly chilling as Whistler. Immediately, the audience knows that he cannot be trusted, and slowly reveals his persona to the campers through a riveting, scene-chewing performance. He also shares great chemistry with Anna Chlumsky, who plays the camp’s nurse, Molly, who helps Jordan attempt to leave with other campers. Germaine has the most gripping arc as Jordan, even if the character itself is mildly developed. They’re only more interesting than the other characters, because the audience spends the most time with Jordan. 

With poorly developed characters, a story that leads nowhere, and the main attraction of the film (a summer camp slasher) being a complete afterthought, They/Them fails at virtually every aspect of good filmmaking. And while Kevin Bacon, Anna Chlumsky, and Theo Germaine give fully committed performances, it isn’t enough to save the film as one of the biggest bores of 2022 and a pretty good candidate for the worst movie of the year. If it wasn’t for the performances mentioned above, it would likely sit at the top spot in my book. 

 

Grade: D-

 

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