Sometimes an idea for a movie comes along that sounds so good that the pitch alone makes it feel like an instant must-watch. A teen summer slasher movie that relocates the action from the standard sleepaway camp to a more sinister gay conversion facility feels like a smart idea, giving it a clever pun of a title like They/Them is even more inspired, and casting Kevin Bacon, who had an early role in the original Friday the 13th, as the sinister camp director Owen Whistler only feels like icing on the cake. It’s a shame then that after a promising start, this movie doesn’t really hold together.
As usual for the genre, we open with a seemingly random person meeting a violent end at the hands of our masked killer, unfortunately though, this is the only sequence that really generates any suspense. After that, we are introduced to the group of LGBTQ youth arriving at Whistler Camp, either in the hopes of “curing” themselves or to appease their parents. Nonbinary camper Jordan (Theo Germaine) quickly becomes suspicious of Owen’s exceedingly chill facade and begins to try to push his buttons. The first hour or so of the movie after that initial kill focuses on the experiences of the kids as they relate their heartbreaking experiences growing up and are subjected to increasingly unusual and cruel “therapies” by the slyly sadistic staff, with only a few passing glimpses of the masked killer skulking around the camp, slowly building a pervasive sense of dread and suspense which sadly is completely squandered by the final third.
It’s hard to say if the fault here lies in the script or in the editing room, but once the killer begins operating in ernest the movie starts to feel surprisingly toothless. There is almost no build-up to any of the murders, robbing the viewer of the rollercoaster ride of tension and release that is a hallmark of the genre. Those interested in clever and creative kills will also be sorely disappointed as nearly all of the violence occurs off camera, though viewers with weaker stomachs will probably appreciate that choice. The cast does adequate work, with the kids being suitably endearing as we get to know them, and the staff admirably try to emulate the sort of off-kilter niceness the Armitage family radiated in Get Out.
Until the climax, literally no energy is spent pondering the identity of the killer, so when the mask ultimately comes off it’s hard not to feel underwhelmed. It is nice to see more diverse representation in movies, and the underlying message of acceptance is likewise a good one, though it does end up feeling more than a little lost in the execution. Perhaps with a bit more time this could have been made into something that lives up to its killer idea, but as it stands right now it is unlikely that anyone will remember They/Them for long. ★★
RATED TV-MA. CONTAINS VIOLENCE, BLOODY IMAGES, SEXUAL CONTENT, NUDITY, STRONG LANGUAGE, AND THEMATIC MATERIAL.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor