Film review: “They / Them” mixes messages to its detriment


From left to right, Carrie Preston, Anna Chlumsky, Boone Platt, Hayley Griffith and Kevin Bacon play camp counsellors. Photo courtesy of Peacock

LOS ANGELES, July 24 (UPI) — They they, the Peacock on August 5, can be groundbreaking for addressing conversion camps in a mainstream movie. However, by combining this subject matter with a slasher movie, writer/director John Logan may have tried to cram too much into one film.

Owen Whistler (Kevin Bacon) runs Whistler Camp for LGBTQ teens. It’s a conversion camp, but it welcomes recruits with an insidious message of false inclusiveness.

Whistler pretends to accept them for what they are, but criticizes them for wanting to find happiness. This idea of ​​happiness happens to conform to heteronormative binaries.

By way of a presentation on the conversion camps, They they demonstrates the heartbreaking ways in which non-acceptance eats away at people. Each character has a unique story about the ultimatum their parents gave them.

Jordan (Theo Germaine) is non-binary trans and already forced to choose the boys’ or girls’ cabin at camp. Alexandra (Quei Tann) is forced to live in the boys’ cabin because she hasn’t fully transitioned yet.

Kim (Anna Lore) is the only camper there voluntarily. She really wants to be straight so her family will accept her, and Lore expresses desperation to deny her true self for conditional love.

They they also shows how LGBTQ children can help each other when there is no adult support in sight. Some of the campers find themselves being forced into this situation.

They rebel against Owen by swapping clothes so they still don’t match his gender binary. This toughness and resilience is starting to crack Whistler’s veneer.

Next, Owen uses animal cruelty to psychologically torture children. Was Logan worried that viewers would know Owen was the bad guy unless he also abused a dog?

It seems cheap and free to get into animal abuse. The conversion camp itself is pretty diabolical with its horrible aversion therapy and microaggressions on Jordan’s pronouns and everyone else’s orientation.,

In the middle of it all, there is a masked killer wandering the camp. Applying slasher movie tropes to conversion camp has potential, but Logan seems to be blurring the message.

Sex=death has always been the equation in the Friday 13 movies, and it’s even cited as a rule in Scream. This gender has always been heterosexual before, which raises some interesting questions about how same-sex love scenes might alter that equation, but never fully explores that possibility.

The reveal of the killer is disappointing at best. At worst, it could be interpreted as counterproductive to the message that the camp is the real horror, not the masked killer.

The young cast is brilliant, showing each of their characters as human beings who deserve love and acceptance. But, if they don’t get it from the company, they can make it themselves.

Along with Bacon, the adult cast effectively shows what strengths young LGBTQ people might face. Carrie Preston plays a counselor who manipulatively tries to convince her vulnerable patients that they can choose their direction.

Hayley Griffith plays a counselor who stirs up confusion by seductively teasing Kim. Anna Chlumsky plays a nurse who tries to do good in this environment but finds herself in over her head.

As a gay filmmaker, Logan may have something sincere to say about both anti-LGBTQ tactics and the slasher film genre. Unfortunately, combining them ends up sabotaging both sides of the story.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a Los Angeles-based UPI entertainment writer. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Learn more about his work in Entertainment.

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