They/Them Review: John Logan’s Directorial Debut Highlights the Risks of Combining Horror and Social Commentary

They/Them Review: John Logan’s Directorial Debut Highlights the Risks of Combining Horror and Social Commentary



CNN

Horror films are no strangers to social commentary or the desire to use violence in a cathartic way. But the latest example of those impulses, “They/Them,” illustrates just how tricky that proposition can be in a story that sometimes feels creepy, exploitative, and preachy without ever becoming particularly tense or scary.

The fact that the film is debuting on Peacock, NBC’s streaming service, suggests that no one saw the final product as having mainstream commercial appeal. But it’s worth acknowledging because it’s the kind of horror movie that seems to want to have its cake and cut it.

The premise involves a group of teenagers sent to a gay conversion therapy camp, a classic environment where no one escapes, sans cell phone.

Adding a few notches to his resume, Kevin Bacon stars as a camp owner who reassuringly greets newcomers with, “I can’t fix you,” as they pass a sign that reads “Regards. Update. Rejoice.”

This is a horror film, though, so the cheery welcome soon gives way to less-than-friendly interactions. And while the victims take unexpected turns, there’s still the question of the psychological abuse of vulnerable teenagers, whose de facto lead, Jordan (Work in Progress’s Theo Germaine), is instantly suspicious and, when necessary, steely and resourceful.

Many films have dealt with the gay conversion phenomenon over the years, since 1999. cult favorite Bet I’m a Cheerleader to fact-based 2018 drama Boy Erased, starring Lucas Hedges and Joel Edgerton as a manipulator. the leader

But those films didn’t try to cater to the specific needs of the horror audience as “They/Them” did, including commercials that emphasized the “/” (think slash) in the title. And even the defiant moments and talk of self-acceptance can’t overcome the feeling that this serious and timely issue is being used as a means to conjure yet another wrinkle in the teen danger formula.

As mentioned, horror has shown an ability to navigate these waters, and the success of Get Out, a combination of horror, comedy and racing, has certainly encouraged studios to explore such themes.

They/Them is produced by Blumhouse, which also produced Get Out. Still, the company followed it up with The Hunt , a dark satire about wealthy elites hunting red-state residents for sport, which came from the same reasons as this one — tackling the difficult subject of America’s toxic political divide. , in a way that risks undermining it.

There’s a fine line between provocative and empowering—which, according to press notes, is how writer-director John Logan (a veteran of the James Bond films) wanted the message to be—and bordering on tone-deaf. .

Scanning reviews of They/Them, UPI’s Fred Topel identified this inherent tension, writing, “As a gay filmmaker, Logan has something honest to say about both anti-LGBTQ tactics and the slasher genre. Unfortunately, combining them ends up sabotaging both sides of the story.

In the overcrowded world of media, anything that sparks a conversation can be seen as a win; after all, it’s not like this space is constantly filled with reviews of live-action Peacock movies.

However, unlike the aforementioned sign in the film, the lessons of “They/Them” are mostly cautionary, similar to “Reflect. Reconsider. Check it out.”

They/Them premieres August 5. Peacock.

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