Recent mainstream horror has an operating problem. Sadly, this is often attributed to the exquisite 2017 film “Get Out” which, with all its sublimity, subtlety and real nuance, should have raised the bar. But it’s kind of opened the floodgates for a slew of identity horror forgeries — from “Them” to “Antebellum” — that are superficial, sloppy imitators.
“They/Them” is the last to suffer this fate.
And that’s a shame. Because it has a large cast of queer actors who also portray queer characters when gender has long eluded them. Although there are plenty of interesting stories – even some that have little to do with their gender and/or sexual identity – that could benefit from being more inclusive.
Writer-director John Logan’s “They/Them” relies entirely on the weirdness of its characters, but with little suspense, horror or intrigue. It makes it seem like the filmmaker had no idea what kind of story he wanted to create around his capable cast.
So Logan opts for the lowest fruit – putting “They/Them” in a gay conversion camp called Camp Whistler. While this is ripe for all sorts of atrocities and horrors that could make for an entertaining gore fest, it immediately poses a pair of problems that are never satisfactorily reconciled.
For starters: how to make a gay-centric horror movie that doesn’t revive a group that’s already brutalized in real life? The second question is a bit more complicated, and rooted in an ongoing problem that recent horror filmmakers have frustratingly avoided grappling with.
Where can the horror come from or what is a subtextual horror that can be explored simultaneously in the story so that it’s not strictly tied to a character’s identity? “by Mariama Diallo”Masterfrom earlier this year had cleverly integrated witches and ghosts into its story of a black student navigating a privileged white university space.
“American Horror Story: Asylum,” told a haunting story about the history of how society responds to homosexuality and race through the lens of an unethical mental institution. Its chilling images and music were also deeply disturbing.
“They/Them,” on the other hand, resorts to literal storytelling, which goes against what makes so many horror movies great. This is even despite a title in which the slash is meant to be pronounced, suggesting a hint of allegory. To find? Because it’s supposed to be a slasher?
But it’s not. Not really, anyway. A group of gay young adults find themselves in this conversion camp run by Owen Whistler (Kevin Bacon), an obvious villain who preaches about his intention to help them while flashing a cold smile. Molly (Anna Chlumsky), one of Owen’s right-hand women, is also there to support, ever so mysteriously, his every decision.
And day after day, the weird and sadly one-dimensional characters (played by actors like Theo Germaine, Quei Tann and Anna Lore) are subject to the same oppressive regulations. This includes being forced to wear clothing aligned with their assigned genders, shooting animals, and generally acting in direct opposition to who they are.
The disturbing experiences typical of queer people in a heteronormative society are compounded by the fact that they are in a virtual prison. “They/Them” doesn’t even bother to build compelling stories around one of them. Molly, as thin as her storyline is, is actually a more interesting character. That says a lot about the film’s priorities.
Logan’s film relies on the presumption that its audience is going to be disturbed by the reality adjacent to the plot – but not the plot itself. Absent are the things you’ve just been anticipating and even craving for horror like suspense and mounting fear. The most intense reaction it could elicit is boredom.
Because other than a clumsy pair of violent twists near the end of the film, one that exploits homosexuality more and another that is an undeveloped revenge subplot, nothing happens in the film. The film spends a lot of time constructing things that never actually happen, which makes for an even more infuriating watch.
The movie isn’t even smart enough to infuse humor or commentary like in “Scream” or “But I’m a Cheerleader,” just to make you feel…something. Anything.
“They/Them” is not only not scary, but he also has nothing to say. A total mess.
The Huffington Gt