Who doesn’t love Bacon? Kevin Bacon, that is—who’s been in some great horror flicks including Friday the 13th, Flatliners, and Stir of Echoes, to name a few. When I heard he’s playing a camp counselor in a new Peacock original film produced by Blumhouse, I felt the sizzle. Sadly, it turned out to be more of a fizzle.
In They/Them, Bacon plays Owen Whistler, the owner and operator of a gay conversion camp. But rather than “pray away the gay,” he takes a more laidback, non-judgmental approach. The movie opens with a murder, then segues to an orientation day at the camp which is, of course, deep in the woods without wi-fi. Camp Whistler’s upbeat motto of “Respect. Renew. Rejoice” is reiterated and then the current ragtag group of LGBTI+ teens is assigned to the “Boys’ Cabin” and the “Girls’ Cabin” which of course doesn’t sit well with some of the attendees—most of whom don’t want to be there in the first place. After that, it’s time for the requisite group sharing and therapy session.
Our hero/heroine is Jordan (Theo Germaine), a nonbinary badass who smells a rat right from the beginning… but they reluctantly go with the flow until the blood starts to flow. Other campers are talky Toby (Austin Crute), confused Kim (Anna Lore), struggling Stu (Cooper Kock), guileful Gabriel (Darwin Del Fabro), and then there’s Veronica (Monique Kim) who is only there to collect research for a paper on conversion therapy—or so she says. Once Whistler’s magnanimous mask slips, we start to get glimpses of a masked baddie wielding an ax. Is it him? One of his seemingly bland staff? A would-be convert? While hints as to who it could be are dropped throughout the first half of They/Them, by the time things pick up you might be beyond caring. However, one cringe-inducing scene of a group singalong to P!nk is sure the send shivers zipping up your spine.
Part of the problem is that the bold concept is handled with kid gloves—when it comes to horror movies, you can’t be 100% politically correct. Horror should be all about shock. What’s more, it’s completely poker-faced; this camp-based slasher begs for a little “camp” but there’s none to be had. Even 1983’s Sleepaway Camp feels fresher than They/Them. It’s a shame because Academy Award-nominated screenwriter John Logan makes his directorial debut here and as someone who knows horror (he wrote Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Alien Covenant, and several episodes of both “Penny Dreadful” series) I expected more. At least it does have a cast of mostly queer actors, which is a big step for a film produced by a major studio.
“They slash them” is a perfect name for a provocative exploitation horror flick, but unfortunately, this killer concept carries a butter knife.