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Home > They/Them (2022): A Review

They/Them (2022): A Review

They/Them

This Is No Summer Camp

By Elke Simmons

In the film, They/Them, a group of LGBTQ+ teenagers appears at a camp that practices conversion therapy but won’t admit to it. Camp Whistler is run by the owner, Owen Whistler, played by Kevin Bacon, and Dr. Cora Whistler, the camp psychiatrist, played by Carrie Preston. The counselors start out with compassionate, considerate attitudes at first, but that does not last. 

Several of the camp counselors turn out to be “converted” ex-campers. Dr. Whistler is a severe manipulator, which is interesting considering her job. Even though all camp counselors seem sympathetic, in the end, it is obvious that everything is not what it seems. Throughout the film’s first part, there is an atmosphere of peril. Very quickly into the film, a serial killer emerges, and many characters are very different from who they claim to be. 

This film is a psychological thriller and slasher film. It appears that the film tries to make a statement on the dangers of conversion therapy, and it does this well. Some reviewers have stated that the filmmakers were cowardly about how they handled the political aspects of this film, but really, it accomplishes what it sets out to do. They/Them was directed and written by John Logan, produced by Blumhouse Productions, and distributed by Peacock; this film has universal appeal as it is fundamentally about a bunch of teens who feel that fitting into this world seems impossible.

They/Them Has Not Lost the Slasher Plot

They/Them is a creative and entertaining slasher work in Horror. It is not so much gore but more of a psychological thriller. There are bloody parts within, but they are pretty tame. Some reviewers have vehemently declared that this film was not confident and that it was cowardly and insecure about offending anyone. However, that’s not true. They/Them does confront the necessary issues, but it does it in a subtle way. Even better, it humanizes people with non-traditional gender roles in a way that very few films do. People who don’t know or understand the plight of this community can better appreciate the beauty in the differences. It’s lovely. 

The slasher scenes are scary enough, and the mask the slasher wears is disconcerting, at the very least. The plot is not solely about nail-biting, hands covering eyes, and grabbing your fellow audience member for support. This film is about the human condition and how humans can truly hurt strangers. Certain parts showing the vulnerability of these kids do squeeze the heart, which is rare in a slasher film. The contrast between that emotional part and the slasher part is almost palpable. The plot was well-spaced, and the timing is excellent and perfectly coherent. They/them is a unique spin on the slasher genre. It draws an audience member in to stay. 

In this film, there is a general atmosphere of danger. Again this film was a unique twist on slasher films, and that’s one of the things that makes it so entertaining. The setting of They/Them is in the woods with a lake next to it. This is the same setting you will find in many slashers like Sleepaway Camp, Friday the 13th, or American Horror Story: 1984. It appears that this was done purposefully to give the audience the same foreboding feeling that something scary is coming. And it works. 

The Characters Make the Film

This teen angst slasher has major stardom in its ranks. Kevin Bacon plays Owen Whistler, the owner of the camp. Of course, he’s Kevin Bacon. No need for six degrees to announce that he did a great job. He had just the right amount of imitation kindness, manipulation, and condescension to make Owen Whistler exactly what he should be. Next was Anna Chlumsky, our girl of yesteryear. She is always great in her roles and plays the camp nurse this time. She was My Girl for a reason. She played scary so well in They/Them. She seems so sweet one minute and something else at other times. 

Then, there is our relative newcomer, Theo Germaine. Theo is a non-traditional gender role, non-binary in real life, and uses they/them pronouns. This ingredient adds extra depth to a character who was already profound. Theo does an amazing job of the complicated feelings involved in being one of the main characters, Jordan. Last but not least of the big-name main characters is Carrie Preston as Dr. Cora Whistler. From True Blood to the present, Carrie Preston is exceedingly strong at horror films. She can be sticky sweet, and angelically good, then creepy in the same minute. She makes every character enjoyable to watch.

They/Them

Darwin Del Fabro, as Gabriel, is a break-out Brazilian actor who led They/them onto a whole other plane. He was magical as Gabriel, and his character is unpredictable and sympathetic. Monique Kim as Veronica, Anna Lore as Kim, and all of the actors who played the teens were stunning. No other actors could have had the chemistry and pulled off this film as well. 

It was those Damned Jump Scares that Made They/Them Famous.

As alluded to previously, this story is not as conventionally scary as it is psychologically horrific. But it doesn’t matter, because it’s an incredible film in its own right. There could have and probably should have been more horror and gore as opposed to psychological manipulation. If a horror fan went into this thinking they were going to see Kevin Bacon cut in half by a wafer-thin blade as in Saw, they would be sorely disappointed. 

This movie should not be viewed by horror fanatics who love the dripping of red-colored corn syrup on a wall behind, above, and below the victim. This is not that kind of movie. It should be viewed by anyone who likes thrillers and has a heart. 

Still, the first jump scare is in one of the first scenes. It doesn’t take long for the counselors to find the first issue with a camper. That is when the true nature of the camp appears. The camp counselors begin to manipulate and bully the campers. That is when Dr. Whistler becomes unbelievable, and the atmosphere of the camp becomes even more dangerous. 

There is a long buildup to the next scare. Then, there is this random scene where everyone breaks into song, and Whistler looks on from the outside as though he is almost envious. That is when our charming Jordan shows her strength, and we have our first gory scene. It is plenty welcome. Then the traditional gender roles conversation begins, and it only gets worse from there. 

One last note of interest. It’s rumored that in lots of conversion camps, there is a building where specific “antidotes” for non-traditional gender proclivities. It’s a place where unspeakable things happen; really, truly horrifying acts. There is one of these at Whistler Camp. There is no spoiler in this review. It’s only a warning. Each time something happens, you won’t believe anything worse can happen.  

Don’t Worry, Dear; the Secrets are Nigh

The amazing thing is that, in the end, this movie teaches some serious lessons or truth. Director John Logan is, at his roots, a director of horror. He knows the horror genre as well as anyone. Still, he felt the need to write and direct this story. There may be a handful of jump scares in the whole movie, but he secured production and an amazing cast and crew. Because of this, They/Them gets a 4.5 out of 5 rating. 

There is Jordan, who finds her strength. Veronica and Kim find acceptance and love. Alexandra finds friendship. Stu and Toby find friendship, and maybe more. Gabriel finds everything he needs. All of the people in this film find what they needed and deserved. It’s kind of a happy ending of sorts. Even the counselors who deserve it get their just desserts. Remember, you may or may not be able to guess what will happen. 

As with many films, this one needs to be seen at least a couple of times to appreciate the story with all of its merits. They/Them was released on Peacock at the outset, so it definitely should be streamed with a Peacock subscription. This movie would have been worth seeing in theaters if it had been offered there. There are movies in the theaters with a lot less going for them. Remember that this story is not about gore but contains some. Maybe not as much as you’re used to, but some. Nonetheless, you will enjoy this film. 

They/Them

They/Them (2022) Official Blumhouse Trailer

Source: Dead Talk Live

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Elke Simmons' writing portfolio includes contributions to The Laredo Morning Times, Walt Disney World Eyes and Ears, Extinction Rebellion (XR) News/Blog, and Dead Talk News.