Yes, you’re meant to say the slash in “They/Them.” At a location out in the middle of nowhere resides LGBTQ conversion “Camp Whistler.” Led by Owen Whistler (Kevin Bacon), the camp’s mission is to help these youths—Jordan (Theo Germaine), Kim (Anna Lore), Alexandra (Quei Tann), Toby (Austin Crute), Veronica (Monique Kim), and Gabriel (Darwin del Fabro)—“find their own truth.” Not to turn them straight, but to merely provide them all the tools to make the best decision for them and their families.
Unsurprisingly, the camp’s casual claim to inclusivity is merely a veneer that hides a sinister underbelly which Jordan senses quickly. At the same time, a masked axe murderer is picking off camp attendants and counselors one by one.
The slasher subgenre is one that, on a base level, doesn’t have to do much to be entertaining if it hones in on at least one focal point. Focus on the whodunit aspect with some meta storytelling/social commentary? Scream has made a name out of this for decades. Rather just see a legendary masked or disfigured killer taking out thinly sketched fodder in creative ways? Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers exist for that, and a myriad of copycat villains off of these three have managed to secure cult status in some circles. To the latter, even at their worst, small flurries of entertainment can be mined from those. They/Them has the setting and a welcomed and authentic presentation of inclusivity, but none of what accounts for a decent slasher at best.
Let’s start with the decent. After a long and pretty damn good writing career (he has been the writer for Skyfall, Any Given Sunday, The Aviator, and Gladiator to name a few), John Logan slides into the directing chair for the first time. He opens They/Them with a solid—albeit extremely dimly lit—sequence introducing the audience to the masked killer. From here, he transitions into what effectively is an exposition-heavy scene dominated by Bacon detailing the purpose of the camp. In the span of 10 minutes, Logan does create a compelling set-up suggesting a mash-up of, say Boy Erased with Friday the 13th.
Sad to say, after those 10 minutes it is very arguable to say that the movie peaks and falls into a rapid decline for the rest of its remaining one hour and thirty minutes. The central issue seems to be that there is no clarity towards what it wants to be. It is missing, well…kills, to be a functional slasher entry, and what it does show is extremely tame. Only one kill actually takes place over 45 minutes! Logan tries to lean into drama during this period, but the sheer glut of characters means that outside of maybe Jordan, none really get the attention necessary to leave an imprint on the feature.
In a normal slasher, this would be a flaw but not a killer (pun intended) one only because the dependable killer would emerge at the optimal time to add creative carnage. This resembles a drama but is devoid of the attention to detail its important subject matter deserves. Throw in some clunky scenes of marksmanship/singing, some unnecessarily awkward instances of intercourse, and a tepid reveal of who the masked killer is, and it simply becomes hard to understand what They/Them is going for. So many castmates feel as if they’re in a different film, including the oft-charismatic Bacon, who can’t save this one.
The authentic queer diversity is commendable, and there are the inner workings of a good thriller (the horror—not quite sure). But as constructed, They/Them is a directionless, laborious, and shockingly dull mismatch of a few different movies/performances. They/Them is currently streaming on Peacock.