‘They/Them’ preview: John Logan’s directorial debut highlights the risks of combining horror with social commentary

The fact that the film debuted on Peacock, NBC’s streaming service, indicates that no one saw the finished product as a major commercial attraction. But it’s worth acknowledging because it represents a kind of horror movie that seems to want to have its cake and cut it too.

The premise involves a group of teenagers sent to a gay conversion therapy camp, a classic no-escape setting in the middle of nowhere with no cellphone reception.

Adding a few more degrees to his resume, Kevin Bacon plays the camp owner, who reassuringly greets newcomers by saying, “I can’t make you straight,” after they pass a sign that reads “Respect. Renew. Rejoice.”

Still, this is a horror movie, so the cheerful reception soon gives way to less friendly interactions. And while the victims take unexpected turns, there is always the matter of psychologically abusing vulnerable teenagers, whose de facto boss, Jordan (“Work in Progress” “Theo Germaine), is both immediately suspicious and, if necessary, inflexible and resourceful.

Many films have dealt with the phenomenon of gay conversion over the years, from the cult 1999 film “But I’m a Cheerleader” to the 2018 factual drama “Boy Erased”, starring Lucas Hedges and Joel Edgerton as the manipulator. chief.

These films, however, did not attempt to satisfy the specific demands of a horror audience, such as “They/Them”, including promos that emphasize the “https://www.cnn.com /” (think slash) in the Title. And even the provocative moments and talk of self-acceptance can’t overcome the sense that this serious and timely issue is being used as a way to conjure up another wrinkle on the adolescent-at-risk formula.

As noted, horror has shown its ability to navigate these waters, and “Get Out”‘s success in blending horror, comedy, and race surely encouraged studios to pursue such subjects.
“They/Them” is produced by Blumhouse, who helped make “Get Out.” Yet the company followed that up with “The Hunt,” a dark satire about wealthy elites hunting down Red State residents for sport, which stumbled into controversy for some of the same reasons as this one – tackling a complicated subject, the toxic politics of the United States to divide, in a way that risks trivializing it.

There’s a fine line between provocation and empowerment – which, according to the press notes, is how writer-director John Logan (a veteran of “Penny Dreadful” and movie-writing James Bond) wanted the message to be heard – and borderline deaf.

Scouring the reviews of “They/Them,” UPI’s Fred Topel identified this inherent tension, writing, “As a gay filmmaker, perhaps Logan has something sincere to say about both anti- -LGBTQ and about the slasher movie genre. Unfortunately, combining them ends up sabotaging both sides of the story.”

In a crowded media world, anything that sparks a conversation can be considered a win; after all, it’s not like this space is regularly filled with reviews of movies straight to Peacock.

Unlike that aforementioned sign in the movie, however, the lessons of “They/Them” are mostly of the cautious type, something like “Reflect. Reconsider. Revise.”

“They/Them” premieres August 5 on Peacock.