A horror film is only as good as its execution. You can have an awesome concept — let’s use The Black Phone as an example — but if anything such as the characters, plot, or in this case, supernatural elements, aren’t well-executed, it can weigh down the entire film as a result. The same is the case for They/Them — pronounced They-Slash-Them — a new horror film about an LGBTQ+ conversion camp with dark secrets. Kevin Bacon leads a film that tries to be a new take on the slasher genre, implementing current themes into its story, but ultimately fails in a film that is so bland and directionless that you’ll forget what film you’re watching halfway in.
“I can’t make you straight. I don’t want to make you straight,” says Kevin Bacon’s character as he introduces himself to the new group of teens at his conversion camp. Now, anytime anyone has to emphasize the opposite of expectations, it’s a bad sign. It’s like when your parents say that you’re not in trouble, so long that you tell them the truth. After the third or fourth time, you’ve likely caught on to their scheme. But, once all of the kids become acclimated to the camp, a mysterious killer arises and the techniques of the camp become more unsettling.
To start positively, what They/Them manages to get right is about five minutes of backstory where the teens all open up about their backstory, spilling why they are attending this camp. Some have collegiate scholarships to look after, others are there just to appease their parents. Most of all, some of the kids just want to be accepted. This was one of the only scenes in the entirety of They/Them that actually attempts to humanize the characters — this is a one-time thing.
Speaking of the characters, there are a few main counselors at this camp. Owen (Kevin Bacon) is the ringleader, Molly is a recent hire, Zane (Boone Platt) is the heavy, there’s a nurse in there somewhere, oh, and there’s a creepy janitor played by Mark Ashworth. But it’s the kids who are the most crucial part of the story, right? After all, this is a story about their survival. Jordan (Theo Germaine) is the default lead, but you also have Alexandra (Quei Tann), Toby (Austin Crute), Veronica (Monique Kim), Kim (Anna Lore), Stu (Cooper Koch), and Gabriel (Darwin del Fabro).
I may have just listed a healthy amount of names to round out an ensemble, but only about three of them get any sort of prominent role. It’s clear from the beginning that Jordan is supposed to be our main protagonist, but unfortunately, the script lends no favors to anyone in the cast, and Germaine is no exception. In fact, in some scenes, there are other kids outside of the ones shown being dropped off at the beginning of the film. These extras randomly appear throughout the movie, and either I was dozing off or these extras made their way into shots. By the end of it, They/Them is hoping for some sort of Breakfast Club-like group of friends, and while some do indeed get close to each other, there is not much implication that any of the kids get together outside of one singalong to Pink’s Fuckin’ Perfect; which is the peak of the film.
Say what you want about New Mutants — the final X-Men movie under the Fox banner — which was as much a disaster as it was a meme for its numerous delays, but at least the film had some fun with itself and I was able to understand why the kids became friends. Granted, the subject matter of the film is different, but just going off of the comparison of kids being locked away at some type of facility, one reigns supreme in that regard.
And on the subject of Kevin Bacon, whose career used to be filled with iconic films like Footloose and Mystic River, has now been relegated to dollar-bin films like last year’s You Should Have Left — where he played a knockoff version of Cliff Booth — and now They/Them. Work is work, sure, but this film really makes you hope that he begins to get opportunities to show off his talents for a late-career revival.
In fact, like real summer camps, They/Them spends an awful lot of time doing nothing. There’s one kill in the entire first hour, and you’ll forget that this is supposed to be a slasher movie by the time the killings actually happen. There’s one montage to the Avett Brothers’ Ain’t No Man, and maybe this is just a rare occurrence where I know a song featured in a film this well, but the editing was so sloppy and I wonder if that was to emphasize certain lines in the song. Perhaps they just didn’t want to use the entirety of the song and what they got to fit the montage, but it was strange to the least.
Back to the camp, this Camp Crystal Lake wannabe — a film that this one holds in such high regard that it actually references Friday the 13th‘s antagonist (also the film Kevin Bacon got his start in) — really doesn’t do a whole lot. Maybe Kevin Bacon’s character wasn’t lying when he emphasized that the kids didn’t have to do anything they didn’t want — he says he “hopes” that they’ll attend the therapy sessions — but there’s a point where there’s some spontaneous free time before dinner. Next thing you know, it’s dark out and they never had dinner. Maybe budgetary restraints or lack of time were the driving force of this, but why wasn’t the actual camp used more? You had a beautiful woods setting that feels so untapped. I guess some people sleep in it one night and some others go for a dip in the river, but X is a recent example of how to use a rural setting to its fullest potential (and how to make a slasher film).
Unfortunately, for director John Logan, you would not be able to tell that he has written some brilliant screenplays such as Gladiator, The Aviator, and Skyfall in the past. The aforementioned five minutes of backstory is the only notable part where the film actually has a sense of purpose. What is They/Them trying to accomplish? The ending surely doesn’t help with clarity, as it left me more puzzled than I thought I could be. With a film like They/Them, which is dealing with not only sensitive subject matter but also timely subject matter, you have to be more concise with your themes. And even when the shady actions occur, they include things like sleeping handcuffed in the woods, being forced into accepted gender norms, and a weird take on the Clockwork Orange torture scene.
In the end, They/Them is a film that couldn’t decide on a lane when crafting its story. It has two ideas juxtaposed: A slasher film and a film about conversion camps. Both can be told in a horror film, but the two never gel. The slasher aspect doesn’t come in until the later parts of the film, while the conversion camp itself isn’t effectively portrayed. Even when they do talk about it, it’s nothing more than the cliche of one of the campers discovering the “dark secrets” of the camp and it’s not what it appeared to be. I mean, that’s assuming that these characters weren’t already suspicious. The camp is “off the grid,” as Owen says in the beginning, and the ringleader seems far too even-keel to not be hiding something. Credit where credit is due, They/Them is trying to give a fresh take on the slasher-horror genre; though I would just recommend Hulu’s Fresh if that’s what you’re looking for. Ultimately, nothing about the film works outside of a Pink singalong. And if I wanted that, I’d go to karaoke night instead.
Them/Them will be available to stream on Peacock on August 5.
Chloe Domont’s ‘Fair Play’ Is A Spellbinding Debut That Challenges Gender Dynamics
Chloe Domont’s debut film, Fair Play, opens with a captivating scene that foreshadows the thrilling and thought-provoking journey ahead. A deeply in love couple, caught up in the excitement of a wedding, find themselves in a bathroom, passionately kissing. As their intimacy escalates, there is a surprising twist—blood stains their clothes. They share a giggle amidst the exhilaration, and their eyes land on a ring on the floor. With blood on their hands and a murder yet to be revealed, they go down on their knees once more, this time for a proposal. The scene sets the stage for a story that combines elements of romance, finance, and psychological intrigue.
Domont skillfully ventures beyond the trappings of a typical workplace affair and delves into the dark world of financial thrillers through a mesmerizing psychological puzzle. By taking a subtle narrative twist, she explores the fragility of gender dynamics. In a perfect love story, had Luke been promoted, everything would have been idyllic. However, Emily’s success and her private chamber disrupt their relationship, unveiling its underlying fractures. Overwhelmed with guilt, Emily immediately apologizes to Luke for achieving professional success. This familiar dynamic unfolds, highlighting society’s conditioning of women to downplay their achievements.
Unlike traditional didactic tales, Fair Play abstains from presenting a clear moral center. Luke is not portrayed as a monster. Initially, he expresses pride in Emily’s success. However, something within him snaps as he faces the corrosive atmosphere of men assuming that Emily slept her way to the top. Emily, too, is drawn into the boys’ locker room conversations, refusing to concede her hard-earned accomplishments.
With astute storytelling and a refusal to pause for respite, Domont takes Fair Play on an unexpected trajectory. The film’s pacing mirrors the emotional claustrophobia of a chamber drama, intensifying the toxic power dynamics that shift nauseatingly fast. The narrative highlights how even well-intentioned condescension can overshadow narratives of men advocating for their female partners. It underscores the reality that equality in love, within heteronormative relationships, relies on unequal gender politics.
Cinematographer Menno Mans contributes to the film’s tension through tight close-up shots of the characters. This visual approach accelerates the emotional intensity woven into their relationship. The exceptional performances of the film’s two lead actors further complicate a linear reading of the story, lending an additional layer of ambivalence. The bathroom scene at the beginning recurs in a darker context near the film’s climax, showcasing the dramatic shift in the actors’ body language. Dynevor expertly weaponizes the fragility of her frame, while Ehrenreich masterfully adapts to his character’s evolving mentality. The film progressively transforms Luke from a genuinely loving and lucky man into a familiar representation of a man that resonates with the experiences of many women.
The return of blood on the floor symbolizes an undisclosed satisfaction, leaving the audience captivated by the film’s powerful exploration of gender dynamics and the human psyche.
To be honest, FAIR PLAY is not what I expected and I enjoyed it very much. A captivating thriller that explores how power, gender roles, and workplace relationships interact.
Gen V Season 1 is Bloody and Disgusting, Yet Utterly Compelling
Ever since The Boys premiered on Prime Video in 2019, it has consistently dropped jaws and blown people’s minds with its weirdly whacky, bloody and horny storytelling about corrupt superheroes. Hollywood had never seen anything quite like this. It is developed by Eric Kripke and creative forces such as Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg were also involved. Three incredible seasons have made it into one of the biggest shows right now. It was no surprise that Prime Video would expand such a beloved universe and greenlight a spinoff series titled Gen V which is finally coming to Prime Video.
Gen V is focused around teen supes studying at Godolkin University, who strive to make their careers in crime fighting and potentially join the seven one day. This 8-episode series is set after the events of The Boys Season 3. This series is developed by Eric Kripke, Craig Rosenberg, and Evan Goldberg. It stars Jaz Sinclair, Chance Perdomo, Maddie Phillips, Lizzie Broadway, and Patrick Schwarzenegger among others.
If anyone was worried that this series would not be as wild and horny as The Boys just because it is set around teens, let me put those worries to bed because this series stays true to every aspect of its predecessor and maintains the unfiltered storytelling throughout. The tone is as outlandish as always and keeps up all the horniness in the characters, including the obsession with penises. It is very much a hard R-rated show, so it might be safe to think about who you recommend it to.
The performances here are excellent, by everyone. Jaz Sinclair who plays Marie Moreau, and Chance Perdomo who plays Andre Anderson are particularly great. They have an emotional vulnerability that makes them totally convincing and makes the viewer sympathize with them. Shelley Conn is mysterious and shrewd as Dean Shetty. Maddie Phillips and Lizzie Broadway are good too. But there isn’t a powerhouse performance such as Antony Starr as Homelander.
The story still revolves around supes, though this time a younger generation of them, and the overall world-building of this franchise but it is surprisingly deeper and more mature than most would expect. At its core, there is a meaningful coming-of-age story about dealing with loss, power and the pressure of high expectations. Every character has interesting arcs and the character development is very smooth. The writers also managed to juggle so many subplots at the same time and managed to keep most of them intriguing. The pacing is also very consistent and rarely slows down.
Several people just find The Boys too disgusting and can’t stand the extreme and explicit nature of the narrative. Gen V also runs on a very similar track in terms of storytelling. So those who did not enjoy The Boys, will most probably not enjoy the new spin-off either. But this show will definitely delight the die-hard fans of this iconic franchise. Gen V does take a lot of shortcuts in its narrative and I wish they let the relationships between characters marinate for a little while longer. The plot may also seem overstuffed at times and there is arguably a lack of action so far.
Gen V embraces the outrageousness of The Boys while delivering an engaging coming-of-age story and manages to stand out on its own. It is as bloody, horny, crudely funny and dramatic as you would expect. The series finds new energy and carries the legacy of its predecessor. The first six episodes are thoroughly engaging and get you invested in the characters and their motivations. Expect to have a blast and see a lot of cameos.
Episodes Viewed – 6 out of 8.
Gen V episodes 1-3 will stream on Prime on September 29 with the finale on November 3.
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar Is Wes Anderson’s Delightful Take On Roald Dahl’s Sweet Story
Roald Dahl and Wes Anderson have both left an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of generations. Dahl’s timeless stories have enchanted readers for decades, while Anderson’s groundbreaking films have pushed the boundaries of cinematic storytelling. Their unique talents and shared appreciation for the power of literature have now converged in Anderson’s latest masterpiece, the modern short film adaptation of Dahl’s The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar.
Anderson, known for his extraordinary attention to detail and distinctive visual style, brings Dahl’s adult-friendly tale to life in a truly captivating way. With a star-studded cast that includes Ralph Fiennes, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dev Patel, and Ben Kingsley, the film stays true to the author’s original text, with the actors delivering their lines directly from the page. This dedication to the literary essence of the story sets the stage for Anderson’s exceptional storytelling.
Following his previous successful adaptation of Dahl’s work with the Oscar-nominated The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson is poised to once again captivate audiences with The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar. In a mere 37 minutes, this short film manages to deliver a delightful and heartwarming experience that can beat any full-length feature film. The commitment and power of the A-list cast shine throughout, ensuring a resounding success on multiple levels.
From the very beginning, Fiennes embodies Dahl himself, narrating the tale as he seamlessly transitions between the comfort of his home and the picturesque outdoors. By applying freeze-frame techniques and cleverly staged tableaus, Fiennes and his fellow actors walk through different sets that are magically transformed by on-screen “stagehands” right before our eyes. This dynamic interplay between reality and cunningness is a testament to Anderson’s growing fascination with the theatrical aspects of filmmaking.
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar not only captures the imaginative essence found in Dahl’s works but also showcases the filmmaker’s mastery of visual storytelling. Each scene is meticulously crafted, with Anderson’s staging drawing heavily on theatrical influences. Costume changes happen seamlessly on camera, resulting in Ben Kingsley’s Khan humorously questioning the whereabouts of his mustache. Furthermore, practical effects, including a delightful box trick, add to the mesmerizing experience of witnessing the film’s creation unfold before our eyes.
Anderson’s choice to create a short film rather than a feature-length production proves to be a stroke of genius. The pacing remains consistently engaging, ensuring that viewers remain captivated from start to finish. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is a visual feast, an entertaining experience, and, above all, a whole lot of fun.
When it comes to acting, it’s so hard to pick a standout because whenever an actor comes on the screen, he or she gives a performance that stays with you. Benedict Cumberbatch is magnetic in his portrayal of Henry Sugar and mesmerises you with a performance that shows his acting prowess. Ben Kingsley shows us why he is one of the greatest actors of all time. His monologues are truly special. Meanwhile, Dev Patel and Richard Ayoade are the magical new entrants in Anderson’s world of magical stories. Both of them are brilliant in their respective roles.
On the other hand, Ralph Fiennes showcases his versatility by embodying Roald Dahl in the most fantastic way possible.
Roald Dahl’s rich storytelling finds new life through Wes Anderson’s innovative cinematic techniques. Their creative collaboration results in a short film that is visually pleasing, emotionally compelling, and brimming with the charm and magic that have made both artists legends in their respective fields. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is not to be missed, as it brings together the best of Dahl and Anderson, leaving audiences enraptured by its undeniable allure. Experience this enchanting journey, and let yourself be swept away by the power of imagination.
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