Peacock ’s They/Them boasts some strong LGBTQ+ performances and good intentions but ends up being an unfortunate mess.
In the modern world, young people are beginning to represent their true selves more than ever. Whether it’s their own idea of sexuality or their gender, we’re starting to see a new cultural landscape that’s as vibrant and welcoming as can be. However, the older generation can’t help but feel a little behind. Of course, the idea of being LGBTQ+ has existed since the dawn of time but not so much in the way it’s seen in the modern landscape. Despite the backlash and controversy that it frustingly creates, Hollywood is now creating more and more LGBTQ+ films than ever before. As it stands, we’re slowly getting to a better place for representation and, with that, expectations will naturally begin to get higher. That’s why Peacock’s They/Them, despite having the absolute best intentions on hand, can’t help but feel like a misguided and ultimately dull slasher that does a disservice to the community it intends to lovingly tribute.
The film follows a group of LGBTQ+ campers who arrive at a conversion camp run by Owen Whistler (Kevin Bacon). Although Owen seeks to welcome these campers with open arms and help them feel free about themselves, the comforting facade of him and the camp quickly begins to crack. As each of the campers face psychological challenges and a mysterious killer, they face threats that threaten their identities and their own lives.
They/Them features a large ensemble cast of both LGBTQ+ and straight actors, which admittedly gives it a strong identity from the start. Each character represents each angle of the community, but each has different reasons as to why they’ve been brought to this conversion camp. Some have been forced to go by their families, others have some form of internal guilt or other personal reasons of their own. However, they all share one singular motive as to why they are together, and that’s to be loved. Whether they’re loved by their families, their friends or even themselves. It’s a concept that opens up a whole array of ideas that They/Them attempts to explore throughout its runtime. The problem, here, though, is that it attempts to juggle far more than its premise really can handle.
Despite the involvement of Blumhouse and the clever play on “They slash them” in the title, They/Them is a slash-less and narratively confused affair whose central flaw is its lack of confidence and control of itself. From the start, They/Them juggles with a large ensemble of characters and a pursuit to explore themes of gender identity that, while undoubtedly well-intentioned, can’t help but feel muddled and confused when all is said and done.
For much of the film, we follow the young LGBTQ+ cast through different traumatic psychological games and view different subplots with each character who explores their identities in both positive and negative ways. They/Them undeniably wants us to love these characters the same way they seek to love themselves. However, it can’t seem to get past the generational gap it internally fights within as it feels like it’s written by somebody who respects the community but doesn’t have the unique perspective or nuance that those within have to offer. One part of the film seeks to be an empowering modern piece on LGBTQ+ identity and the other seeks to be a trashy and exploitative slasher straight from the 70s. However, the slasher angle specifically feels forgotten about for the first hour, to the point where it’d be easy to question why They/Them, a film clearly wanting to be a fresh face for a young and new generation, would want to include a component that feels so dated and needlessly upsetting within the film.
When They/Them focuses itself on a particular idea or concept, it actually does so to good effect. Much of the film’s first hour is exploring the camp and the different ways its inhabitants try to “fix” the campers through a more progressive and deceitfully welcoming lens. One particular scene with Carrie Preston and Theo Germaine‘s characters is a chilling moment in the film, as Preston essentially berates Germaine’s identity. The problem, however, is that despite much of this first hour featuring strong conceptual ideas, these moments largely go nowhere by the time the film reaches its third act.
By the time They/Them reaches its conclusion, it does so with a whimper and the question of what the point of a lot of this really was in the first place. As we watch the psychological abuse of these LGBTQ+ teens on screen ultimately lead nowhere, it’s easy to wonder what the point of this movie really was. As a horror film about conversion camps, there’s something in its script that could lend itself to that premise pretty strongly, but the film never really goes beyond the conceptual stage with this particular angle. When it leans more towards being a slasher, it feels underdeveloped and when it leans towards being more exploitative, it’s uncomfortable and at odds with its overall narrative thesis. By the time They/Them ends, it feels like the first draft of a film that desperately needed at least another three to tighten itself up and figure out its own identity.
No matter how good the intentions were of director and writer John Logan, They/Them is a particularly disappointing film. Despite a welcoming diverse cast and Kevin Bacon doing his best with what he’s been given, there’s really not much to save here in the messy script it provides itself. There are many terrific LGBTQ+ horror movies out there, to the point where films like They/Them are now obsolete in the wider reach of the genre. Strong representation is always important, but it’s a shame that it finds itself in the middle of an unfortunate disappointment.
They/Them, produced by Blumhouse, will premiere on Peacock on August 5, 2022.