Sometimes a movie has it all: a wonderful cast, a top screenwriter behind it, great ideas, and a literally to-die-for premise. Sometimes, despite all of this, the film still fails to find its roots and lay down its premises. They they, by writer/director John Logan, is unfortunately one of them. It has it all, but a few thematic, plot, and structural issues hamper what could have been an era-defining slasher.
In They theythe first feature film by John Logan (author of several films, including Gladiator, the aviator, and much more), a group of young LGBTQ people arrive at a gay conversion camp, run by Owen Whistler (Kevin Bacon). Campers Jordan (Theo Germaine), Alexandra (Quei Tann), and others struggle in the increasingly threatening atmosphere of camp, and that’s before a mysterious killer begins hacking into various camp residents.
A number of performances in They they really work Theo Germaine is excellent as a complex central protagonist, landing in strength and vulnerability to a considerable extent. Quey Tann’s Alexandra adds so much heart to the film while Austin Crute’s Toby is charming with great comedic timing. Camp’s infamous counselors also give strong and menacing performances, with Kevin Bacon having a largely successful multi-layered approach to his demented Owen Whistler persona.
The script, from seasoned veteran John Logan, has a number of virtues in its dialogue. Many characters’ dialogue really works, delivering humor or emotion when needed. It’s clearly a well-meaning film that centers LGBTQ heroes against the backdrop of real villains, and the laser-focus here produces quite a few emotional or celebratory scenes that work, and work quite well.
There are, however, issues that undermine some of this considerable potential in undesirable ways. For all of its empowering and community-empowering virtues, the film remains a little messy thematically. It’s hard to be too specific here without giving too much away, but here goes. A central theme here is that we LGBTQ people have the right to determine our own destiny, life, and happiness – no one else has the right to tell us what to do and who we can be. So far, so good. In the end, however, we discover that a character with a history of conversion camp will go to extreme measures to get revenge for their own history, alongside a protective dream that no one else will have to face it. this fate.
It’s pretty clear from the context that we’re meant to nurture this character through these extreme measures, yet one of the protagonists both refuses to join them (don’t tell me how to live my life!) and returns them. It’s a surprisingly milquetoast pivot that undermines the actions we were meant to encourage, though they happen to some really bad and terrorizing villains. Plus, why are we supposed to stand up for LGBTQ people by choosing their own path when this truly wronged character has chosen his own path, a path forged by absolute terrors, but we’re suddenly supposed to deny his very personal revenge? I’m not saying every deep evil movie should end in “infinite revenge” per se, but it’s a thematic pivot that undermines what THAT movie had built up in some pretty weird ways, all in an effort to be safe. .
There are also character changes that don’t make sense motivationally (one particular heel turn literally has no motive that makes sense) and a musical number that becomes a music video in its own right. which goes from festive to corny depending on who asks. Sure, John Logan is a spectacular scribe, but some of these choices need to be refined in concept or execution.
Finally, for a thriller slasher, rhythm is everywhere, and with it excitement. Very little ‘horror style’ activity happens for the first half of the movie, then something starts to happen, then a whole lot more nothing before all hell breaks loose, but it’s too quick and too easy to really increase the necessary voltage. Once things start happening, it’s also easy to predict what’s going to happen next with some accuracy…a few evasions and a bit of obfuscation would really help here. Keep the audience guessing, and those moments would have been really scary.
They they It might be one of the smartest horror titles in years (they’re pronouns, but they really cut them, got it?), but it’s sadly not one of the best titles out there. horror for years. It features wonderfully written scenes with a number of very talented performers, but the thematic issues, some major plot and structural issues, and an inexplicably bad ending undermine what is otherwise a promising film with a much-needed premise. That’s a shame.
They they is available on Peacock.