You’ve probably been hearing lots of negative things about Peacock’s new release They/Them. Thankfully, I watched the film before seeing it had 3.3 stars out of 10 on IMDb and a 17 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. I was shocked to see those low ratings because you know what? It’s not that bad.
I was genuinely excited to watch They/them. I think John Logan is a great filmmaker, Kevin Bacon is a strong actor, a conversion camp would make a compelling setting for a horror movie, and the hardships of LGBTQIA+ youth are an important subject matter. Unfortunately, the social issue-based horror movie fell flat, yet it did manage to succeed in other areas.
Throughout my viewing of They/Them, I stayed invested. To me, that’s the main requirement to call a movie worth watching. There were lots of areas where the film could improve, but overall, I found it to be a very average horror movie. Despite that, a 3.3 on IMDb? I have a feeling that some people rushed to the platform to give it 1 star without actually seeing the movie… I wonder what kind of person would do that?
I suppose every film that centers itself on social issues is destined to be controversial. Then again, even movies that aren’t strictly about social issues have a way of commenting on them. It’s clear that John Logan, himself a gay man, made this film with the hopes of empowering the LGBTQIA+ community. Some people call it exploitative while others will dislike anything they deem “woke” – in the end, I found that They/Them is a decent movie that shows the ways religious, psychological manipulation can effect people who, to quote the film, “just want to be.”
The Whistler Camp’s eerie motto: “Respect. Renew. Rejoice.”
Spoiler Alert for They/Them:
For a film with a slash in the title, it wasn’t quite able to find its place in the slasher genre. In short, it wasn’t gory. Most of the kills worked to shield the blood and carnage despite it’s mature rating. There wasn’t a ton of suspense or mystery regarding who the killer was. Also, the killing was only a small part of the plot. It was primarily about the main group of LGBTQIA+ youth navigating their way through the conversion camp and discovering what it really is. So that’s fine, but don’t go into this movie expecting a slasher, even though the opening scene tricks you into thinking you’re watching one.
As the B in LGBTQIA+ I personally found a lot of validation in the scene where each member of the camp confesses why they are there. Of course lots of people are there because their parents made them, but some, like Anna Lore’s character and Cooper Koch’s character, are there because they simply don’t want to accept that they are gay. the scene is heart wrenching and relatable, as it shows how confusing self discovery is, especially when you grow up in a place where to be gay means to be ‘different’ or even ‘wrong.’ Other incredible actors like Quei Tann, Austin Crute, and Monique Kim come together to make this scene stand out as well.
So, here’s the biggest problem with They/Them: it could not seem to find a tone. Just when things would get intense and a serious issue seemed to be focused on, things would quickly shift to campy and lighthearted (a group singalong to Pink’s song Perfect, if you will). If the film would have picked a direction and just stuck with it, I think we’d have had a much more impactful experience.
“Why do we do that? Why do I do that? Why do I do that?”
Even though it became predictable – it was pretty nice seeing all of the evil sadists get killed. Who doesn’t love seeing people get their comeuppance? Speaking of – Kevin Bacon delivered a standout performance as Owen Whistler, the main antagonist. His rival and our main character Jordan, played by Theo Germaine, was also a strong and powerful protagonist. That’s another positive point to add to the film’s credit: the cast was great.
A big negative for this film would be the unsatisfying finale. The twist ending and then the odd message attached to it, quote, “I’m strong enough not to do this” is rushed and conflicting. Everything worked out for our queer heroes in the end, yet it all seemed to be a quick and sloppy way to finish up the film.
I agree with the common critique that They/Them did not thoroughly explore the seriousness of conversion therapy. I did like how the conversion camp was not initially portrayed as dangerous, especially with Kevin Bacon’s opening monologue meant to trick campers and viewers into submission. The friendly looking mask over this type of brainwashing stays true to real life. I also thought the film did a pretty good job at showing some very messed up and manipulative one-on-one therapy as well as the brutal act of shock therapy. Regrettably, though, there is much more that needs to be focused on: specifically the psychological impact on our LGBTQIA+ youth.
Overall, I think it’s a fine movie that has garnered lots of undeserved hate. Given the subject matter, I can’t say I’m surprised. I encourage you to go to Peacock and watch They/Them for yourself.
What are some ways you think They/Them could have improved? Let us know in the comments.