Review Round-Up: LGBTQ+ Horror Movie 'They/Them'

Saturday August 6, 2022
Originally published on August 3, 2022

Kevin Bacon in "They/Them"
Kevin Bacon in "They/Them"  (Source:Peacock)

John Logan is one of the most eclectic working writers working in theater and movies, from Tony-winning plays such as "Red" and "Moulin Rouge," to such screenplays as "Gladiator," "The Aviator" and "Hugo." But the thrice Oscar-nominated, out Logan has also embraced the horror genre, most notably with his underrated Showtime series "Penny/Dreadful" and its follow-up, "Penny/Dreadful: City of Angels."

This week Logan makes his directorial debut with "They/Them," a horror film that could be said to be ripped from the headlines. (FYI: the title is pronounced 'They-SLASH-Them.') In the film, a group of teens find themselves at a gay conversion camp where a serial killer is on the loose. Starring Kevin Bacon as the camp's director, the film mixes the horror conversion therapy with tropes from the slasher genre.

But did Logan succeed? Thus far the reviews of the film, which starts streaming on Peacock on August 5, are decidedly mixed, with the majority negative. This has led Rotten Tomatoes to peg the film with a 43% rating based on 14 reviews.

Here is a sample of the reviews:

In his positive review, Dan Callahan on The Wrap writes:

"Veteran screenwriter John Logan makes his directorial debut with 'They/Them,' a Blumhouse horror movie set in a gay conversion camp, and his formidable screenwriting prowess is what really sets this picture apart from others in the horror genre."

Saying that some scenes towards the film's end don't fully work, Callahan closes with "the conclusion carries the sense of hurt and emotion that makes this far more than the usual paint-by-numbers horror show. The premise of 'They/Them' makes it sound like it could be either unwieldy or distasteful, but Logan skirts nearly all pitfalls here and delivers a movie that respects its audience and shows what can be done when a talented veteran screenwriter gets a chance to write and direct a genre picture with some teeth to it."

But at AV Club, Leigh Monson is more negative. "As the camp counselors start to show their true colors, They/Them delves into a particularly prescient point about conversion therapy camps as self-perpetuating monster factories, where that exploited shame is transformed into a destructive force...

"If this doesn't sound much like a slasher flick, though, it's because the film has a strained relationship with its central conceit. Yes, there is a slasher figure lurking around the periphery of the narrative, though their presence is fairly restrained and almost ephemeral, as if the film has been edited this way solely to intermittently remind you of its punning title. In fact, the film doesn't truly become a slasher until the final 15 minutes or so, and even then the lackluster explosions of violence leave minimal visceral impact as the story hurtles towards its forced finale, especially in contrast with the established emotional manipulation of the preceding two acts...

"'They/Them' gets points for atmosphere and theme, but it's ultimately too uneven to stand as either a coherent condemnation of the actual tortures of conversion therapy or as a cathartic release through the power of horror tropes. It's a misfire, but still a nominally compelling one so long as one is prepared for that titular slash to cut through the established mood, so that the film deflates like a half-filled balloon."

At Variety, Peter Debruge, was also on the distaff side while praising the film's concept. "Pronouns matter more than gore or suspense in 'They/Them,' a tepid flip-the-script horror movie whose title doubles as its logline when you say the "slash" out loud. Set at a janky gay conversion camp, this Blumhouse-produced, Peacock-released LGBT empowerment exercise presents itself as a cross between 'Friday the 13th' and 'But I'm a Cheerleader.' Alas, it's so committed to affirmational messages about queer identity not being a choice, a condition or a legitimate motive to get axed by a deranged serial killer that the movie all but forgets to be scary — although enlisting Kevin Bacon as too-genial-to-be-trusted camp overseer Owen Whistler nearly makes it work...

"That said, just getting 'They/Them' made represents a meaningful achievement, considering the overwhelmingly conservative codes of American slasher movies, whereby virgins and well-behaved white kids make it to the closing credits, while marginalized/diverse characters are often the first to be slaughtered. With this personal project, Logan — a thrice-Oscar-nominated Hollywood screenwriter who counts 'Gladiator,' 'Skyfall' and 'The Aviator' among his credits — seized the opportunity to challenge the genre's heteronormative (and often aggressively homophobic) formula."

Similarly, At the horror-film site Bloody Disgusting, Meagan Navarro admired aspects of the film, but doesn't think it delivers the scares. "John Logan's Gothic horror drama 'Penny Dreadful' retooled classic literary horror figures in a captivating, poignant way by exploring the ethos of monsters...

"'They/Them' succeeds more as a psychological, character-driven horror movie. Logan wrings some tension from intense conversations, brutal interactions, and occasional torment. Germaine is winsome as the capable leader, and the supporting campers are equally affable. Bacon stands out among the adults; his Owen can turn on the charm or menace in a blink. It helps that he's the most developed of the bunch. 'They/Them' can't subvert the slasher concept, though. Logan tries to cover too much ground with too many characters in such a short running time. While it can be a detriment to the horror, 'They/Them' does deliver on endearing characters with rooting interest."

While The Queer Review's James Kleinmann found much to like about Logan's film. "Oscar-nominated veteran screenwriter John Logan ('Skyfall,' 'Hugo,' 'The Aviator,' 'Gladiator') makes his directing debut with his own skillfully-crafted screenplay for the gripping and bloody terrifying slasher, 'They/Them' (pronounced They-slash-Them), which received its world premiere tonight as it closed the 40th anniversary Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ+ Film Festival...

"The conversion therapy setting has been used on film in comedy with 'But I'm A Cheerleader,' based-on-real-events dramas like 'Boy Erased' and 'Trapped: The Alex Cooper Story,' and even a gay adult movie, with Marc MacNamara's 'A Murdered Heart.' But when I first heard about 'They/Them' earlier this year, my initial thought was, isn't conversion therapy horrifying enough without it being given the horror movie treatment? The result though is hugely impactful, not just an entertaining and highly effective genre film, but as a major Blumhouse production available on Peacock, it has the potential to broaden the knowledge of and movement against this heinous practice."

BuzzFeed's Mark Young gives the film a rave, with a headline touting the film "a masterpiece."

"'They/Them' (pronounced "They-Slash-Them") is veteran screenwriter John Logan's debut directorial film, that sees a group of queer young adults setting out to survive a week at a conversion camp. 

"The film initially seems to be a queer homage to the slasher films of the '80s, but twists into a deeply layered psychological thriller that shows the real life LGBTQ+ experience is often scarier than any horror movie...

"The film initially appears as a queer 'Friday The 13th' with the slasher film vibes in full effect as the archetypes and crucial roles become set. However, as camp owner Owen Whistler (the scary good Kevin Bacon), introduces himself to the campers with a chilling welcome speech, you realize this horror will not be like anything you've seen before...

"This movie is a horror film, but it's through the horror that the surprising ways in which queer people will find love, beauty, and strength exist, and that will stick with me. I was terrified 'They/Them' would be nothing but queer torture porn, making fun of pronouns and killing off LGBTQ+ people, but it's not that...

"As far as LGBTQ+ horror films go, They/Them is undoubtedly one of the best there is. 

"Few other films have ever used queer themes to talk about the horrors of the LGBTQ+ without it just becoming anything other than queer suffering. This film genuinely surprised me, not for its horror, but for its queer love."

While Alejandra Martinez at We Got This Covered offered a more measured assessment.

"Horror has always been queer. Whether in subtext or the actual depiction of LGBTQIA+ characters onscreen, scary movies (and slashers in particular) have never shied away from addressing sexuality. So the emergence of 'They/Them,' a slasher set at a gay conversion camp, makes sense. The film makes sure to underscore the very real horrors at its heart — and they have nothing to do with a masked killer."

Citing some dialogue she feels forced and hollow, she writes: " It's when the movie leans in too hard to this dynamic that things reach a nadir. When 'They/Them 'thinks it's smarter and better than it actually is, the movie suffers, and so does the audience...

"To its credit, 'They/Them' offers an interesting vision of what greater, specific LGBTQIA+ representation and storytelling can bring to a slasher, even if it doesn't land perfectly. It's cool that queer teens will have a new potential entryway into the slasher subgenre, they deserve a better end product."

She summarizes: "'They/Them' is a swing and a miss for queer horror."