‘They/Them’ preview: John Logan’s directing debut underlines the dangers of mixing horror and social commentary


Horror films aren’t any strangers to social commentary, or the need to be cathartic in how they use violence. But the most recent instance of these impulses, “They/Them,” illustrates how tough that proposition may be, in a narrative that at numerous instances feels creepy, exploitative and preachy, with out changing into significantly tense or scary.

The truth that the movie is making its debut on Peacock, NBC’s streaming service, signifies that no one noticed the completed product as a significant industrial attraction. However it’s price acknowledging as a result of it represents a form of horror film that seemingly desires to have its cake and carve it up too.

The premise includes a gaggle of teenagers despatched to a gay-conversion-therapy camp, a traditional no-escape setting in the course of nowhere with out cellphone reception.

Including one other few levels to his resume, Kevin Bacon performs the camp’s proprietor, who reassuringly greets the brand new arrivals by saying, “I can’t make you straight,” after they move an indication that reads “Respect. Renew. Rejoice.”

Nonetheless, this can be a horror film, so the cheerful welcome quickly provides approach to less-friendly interactions. And whereas the victims take sudden turns, there’s nonetheless the matter of psychologically abusing susceptible youngsters, whose de facto chief, Jordan (“Work in Progress’” Theo Germaine), is each immediately suspicious and, when wanted, steely and resourceful.

Loads of movies have handled the gay-conversion phenomenon via the years, from the 1999 cult favourite “But I’m a Cheerleader” to the fact-based 2018 drama “Boy Erased,” starring Lucas Hedges and that includes Joel Edgerton because the manipulative chief.

These films, nevertheless, weren’t making an attempt to fulfill the particular calls for of a horror viewers, as “They/Them” is, together with promos that emphasize the “/” (assume slash) within the title. And even defiant moments and speeches about self-acceptance can’t overcome a way that this severe and well timed difficulty is being employed as a tool to conjure one other wrinkle on the teenagers-in-peril system.

As famous, horror has exhibited the flexibility to navigate these waters, and the success of “Get Out” in mixing horror, comedy and race absolutely emboldened studios to pursue such subjects.

“They/Them” is produced by Blumhouse, which had a hand in making “Get Out.” Nonetheless, the corporate adopted that with “The Hunt,” a darkish satire about rich elites searching red-state denizens for sport, which stumbled into controversy for among the similar causes as this –by tackling difficult material, the US’s poisonous political divide, in a manner that dangers trivializing it.

There’s a effective line between provocative and empowering – which, primarily based on the press notes, is how writer-director John Logan (a veteran of “Penny Dreadful” and writing James Bond films) wished the message to be perceived – and bordering on tone deaf.

Scanning evaluations of “They/Them,” UPI’s Fred Topel recognized this inherent stress, writing, “As an out gay filmmaker, Logan may have something sincere to say both about ant-LGBTQ tactics and the slasher movie genre. Unfortunately, combining them ends up sabotaging both sides of the story.”

In a crowded media world, something that triggers a dialog may be seen as a little bit of a win; in any case, it’s not like this area is often crammed with evaluations of straight-to-Peacock films.

Not like that aforementioned signal within the film, although, the teachings from “They/Them” are principally of the cautionary selection, one thing like “Reflect. Reconsider. Revise.”

“They/Them” premieres Aug. 5 on Peacock.