Content Warning: This article discusses homophobia and conversion therapy.
The Peacock slasher movie They/Them has a stellar premise, but the socially conscious satirical horror must avoid a pair of common mistakes made by recent genre efforts. They/Them sees Kevin Bacon return to horror movies as the actor plays the proprietor of an LGBTQIA+ conversion camp where a group of teens is picked off by a masked murderer. Combining fears of homophobia, hate crime, and intolerance with less grounded scenes of a slasher villain picking off victims, They/Them aims to be the latest socially conscious horror to satirize real-life issues while also scaring viewers with a classic genre setup.SCREENRANT VIDEO OF THE DAY
They/Them needs to avoid two major pitfalls that recent socially conscious horror movies have run into. Namely, it can’t dwell too much on the suffering of its marginalized characters lest the horror becomes a grim, hopeless depiction of oppression rather than a lively slasher. The movie also can’t downplay the damage done by real-life conversion therapy in a misguided attempt to see “both sides” of a one-sided issue.
Related: Scream 2022 Has An “Elevated Horror” Problem
Where the Friday the 13th franchise could simply kill off its teen heroes with wild abandon, They/Them needs to tread more carefully. Good Madam, Antebellum, and Amazon’s Them were all criticized for graphically dwelling on the pain of their oppressed characters more than delivering actual horror content. This is something that They/Them must avoid since a cheesy summer camp slasher is hardly the venue for heart-wrenching depictions of realistic homophobia. Werewolves Within’s flimsy take on oil pipelines and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2022’s non-view of gentrification were both too spineless to take a side on issues that the movies themselves chose to address, a mistake that They/Them cannot afford to repeat.
Why They/Them Can Fix An Elevated Horror Problem
As noted in the 2022 slasher reboot Scream, “elevated horror” is a problematic term without a clear meaning. However, most horror movies that seek to make explicit points about real-life politics fit the descriptor, and lesser entries into this subgenre have a problem that They/Them can avoid. By focusing on a real-life issue — conversion camps and the mistreatment of LGBTQIA+ youth — They/Them can, like Get Out and Ready or Not, offer a heightened but relatable depiction of a real social issue and use this to drive its horror.
Meanwhile, the corny slasher stylings keep They/Them from being a humorless self-serious “elevated horror” effort, meaning the Blumhouse production should, in theory, not be as quick to dwell on the suffering of its marginalized characters to be taken seriously. Antebellum’s terrible reviews almost all cited the movie’s drawn-out depiction of the horrors of slavery as its primary problem, with the movie’s attempts at “elevated horror” resulting in the creators forgetting to focus on genre thrills, instead centering hopelessly bleak depictions of real-life atrocities. By choosing the slasher formula, They/Them can avoid the elevated horror subgenre’s problem of attempting to seem worthy via needlessly grim depictions of trauma while still deftly and decisively satirizing a real and really dangerous phenomenon.