Review by Sean Boelman
When They/Them (pronounced “They Slash Them”) was announced, the response was one of mixed emotions. While it was exciting to be getting a mainstream queer horror film, the questionable approach had some wondering if it was going to be problematic. While the results aren’t as bad as they could have been, it’s pretty underwhelming.
The movie follows a group of teens at a gay conversion camp as the counselors’ teachings and methods become increasingly disturbing and unhinged and they discover that a masked killer is on the loose. It certainly isn’t the dumpster fire that this premise had the potential to become, but it’s also rather lacking as a whole.
Without a doubt, the biggest issue with the film is its pacing. Those hoping that this is going to be a slasher movie will be sorely disappointed, as there is one kill early on and then it isn’t until the third act that the film starts to gravitate more heavily towards horror again. The rest is more of a drama with occasionally disturbing elements.
The movie was obviously made with the best of intentions, but it does feel like the messaging got confused at a certain point. Especially with regards to the ending, the film is nowhere close to being as progressive as it thinks it is. Compared to a lot of other queer horror flicks, this one is much less interested in actually engaging with the themes.
It definitely would have helped if the characters had more personality, but many of them are written very plainly to stereotypes. The movie does a good job of making the teens likable and the counselors deplorable, but there’s not much more to them than that. And the film’s attempts to make the audience care more about the characters can come across as downright tone-deaf.
Kevin Bacon almost single-handedly carries the movie on his back. His performance is hammy in all the right ways and is the only genuinely fun thing about a film that unfortunately takes itself way too seriously. The ensemble that they got to play the group of teens is not great, many of them suffering from their inexperience.
There are a few scenes in the movie that are grisly and disturbing, but it’s not the slasher kills — it’s the conversion camp torture sequences. Arguably, the slasher aspect seems tacked on like an afterthought, with kills that are largely generic and uninspired and a killer costume that is about as bland as they come.
They/Them has a few memorable moments, but for the most part, not enough is happening to make it particularly effective as a horror film. Without Kevin Bacon’s solid leading performance, it probably would have been an entirely bad outing, not just a disappointing one.
They/Them streams on Peacock beginning August 5.