“They / they” is the latest horror film to exploit identity and it’s not scary either

Recent mainstream horror has an exploitation problem. Sadly, this is often traced back to the exquisite 2017 film “Get Out,” which for all its sublimity, subtlety and royal nuance should have raised the bar. But somehow it has opened the door to a slew of identity horror imitations – from “They” to “Antebellum” – which are superficial and sloppy imitations.

“They / They” is the last to suffer this fate.

And that’s a shame. Because it boasts a large cast of queer actors who also play queer characters when the genre has had a long history of evading them altogether. While there are many interesting stories, even some that have little to do with their gender and / or sexual identities, which could benefit from being more inclusive.

“They / Them” by writer / director John Logan is based entirely on the weirdness of its characters, but with little suspense, horror and plot. It comes out as if the director had no idea what kind of story he wanted to create around his capable cast.

Then, Logan chooses the lowest fruit: setting “They / They” in a gay conversion camp called Camp Whistler. While that is ripe for all kinds of atrocities and horrors that could create a silly and fun blood party, he immediately raises a couple of problems that are never satisfactorily reconciled.

For starters: how do you make a horror movie about queer people that doesn’t reactivate a group that is already brutalized in real life? The second question is a little more complicated and rooted in a coherent issue that recent horror directors have frustratedly avoided contending with.

Monique Kim (left) and Anna Lore inside "them / them."
Monique Kim (left) and Anna Lore in “Them / Them”.

Josh Stringer / Blumhouse Productions

Where else can the horror come from or what is a subtext horror that can be explored simultaneously in the story so that it is not closely tied to a character’s identity? by Mariama DiallomasterSince the beginning of this year, witches and ghosts have been cleverly intertwined in her story of a black student navigating a privileged white academic space.

“American Horror Story: Asylum,” told a disturbing story about how society responds to strangeness and race through the prism of an unethical mental institution. His disturbing images and music were also deeply disturbing.

“They / they”, on the other hand, resorts to literal storytelling, which is at odds with what makes so many horror movies great. This despite having a title in which the slash should be pronounced, suggesting a hint of allegory. Take it? Why should it be a slasher?

But it isn’t. Not really, anyway. A group of gay young adults find themselves in this conversion camp led by Owen Whistler (Kevin Bacon), an obvious villain who preaches his intention to help them while showing a cold smile. Molly (Anna Chlumsky), one of Owen’s right-hand women, is also there, mysteriously, to support his every decision.

And day after day, queer and sadly one-dimensional characters (played by actors including Theo Germaine, Quei Tann and Anna Lore) are subject to the same oppressive rules. This includes being forced to wear clothes in line with their assigned sexes, shooting animals, and generally acting in direct opposition to who they are.

The typical disturbing experiences that queer people navigate in a heteronormative society are compounded by the fact that they are in a virtual prison. “They / They” doesn’t even bother to build compelling stories around any of them. Molly, as subtle as her plot is, is actually a more interesting character. This speaks volumes about the film’s priorities.

Carrie Preston (left), Anna Chlumsky and Boone Platt inside "them / them."
Carrie Preston (left), Anna Chlumsky and Boone Platt in “Them / them”.

Josh Stringer / Blumhouse Productions

Logan’s film relies on the presumption that its audience will be disturbed by the reality adjacent to the plot, but not by the plot itself. Absent are the things you come to anticipate and even crave from a horror like suspense and growing fear. The most intense reaction it could elicit is boredom.

Because apart from a clumsy couple of violent twists towards the end of the film, one that takes further advantage of the weirdness and another that is an undeveloped revenge subplot, nothing happens in the film. The film spends a lot of time building things that never actually happen, which makes it an even more maddening watch.

The movie isn’t even smart enough to instill humor or comment like in “Scream” or “But I’m a Cheerleader”, just to make you feel … something. everything.

“They / They” is not alone Not scary, but it has nothing to say. A total waste.