The newly released They/Them, currently streaming on Peacock, had a lot of intrigue surrounding it for its premise and what it would end up having to say about the embedded hatred of society towards who it considers to be “other.” Featuring an LGBTQIA+ cast who play young characters that are sent to an increasingly horrifying conversion camp, the film soon introduces that there is also a masked killer roaming the woods and taking out counselors. The identity of this person is not revealed until the very end, though it still is clear that the real targets are not the kids who were sent here. Instead, it is the ones who were abusing them that are really being hunted down.
This killer feels like an agent of justice who is righting the wrongs of the world, a classic staple of horror that finds catharsis in its fictional revenge. Sure enough, it is revealed that this figure is actually Anna Chlumsky’s Angie Phelps. She had previously attended the camp where she had been abused by Kevin Bacon’s menacing Owen Whistler. Angie had been pretending to work underneath him as the now-dead Molly while actually infiltrating the hateful group. She had planned to expose them so that no kids would ever be sent there again to be hurt just as she was. When she reveals her intentions to Whistler, Theo Germaine’s Jordan is listening in on the conversation. Just when the tables get turned, it is Jordan who stops Whistler at gunpoint from choking Angie to death. Subsequently, Angie kills Whistler by impaling him on the head of a rhino hanging on the wall and then cutting his throat.
It seems as though the ending then could be audacious in Jordan and Angie deciding to join in solidarity to keep quiet about what happened there. Instead, in a moment that feels both woefully out of character and thematically cowardly, Jordan decides to turn in Molly to the police. This is the apparently “just” finale that it leaves us with. The monologue Jordan gives to explain this only ends up creating a false equivocation between oppressor and oppressed, as though defending those being abused by the counselors was somehow the same as those doing the abusing. They say that “no one is ever going to tell us who we are ever again,” and specifically talks to Molly directly to say “not him, not you, no one.” Played like it is meant to be empowering for Jordan, it is the most disempowering and misjudged moment of a movie this year. It is baffling as Molly was never telling Jordan what to be and was merely pleading with them not to turn her over to the police, and it is tragic that the film seems to position it as a heroic moment. In a story that was generally light on scares, this is the most unintentionally terrifying point because of how tactless it is. Whether the film fully grasps the implications of what it is saying with this scene is made even worse by just how corny it is. As the music swells, we see Jordan emerge from the cabin and cops rush in. In the morning, we then see Molly being led away in handcuffs and driven away in a police car while Jordan looks on.
This is the supposedly happy ending where a victim of immense trauma who was left with no options and had to take matters into her own hands is now being punished by the very system that failed her. The film tries to spin this as being sentimental, leaving a sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach. It not only is just bad writing in how it falls completely flat, but it undercuts any more meaningful statement it was gesturing at to instead weakly make a half-hearted argument that there are bad people on both sides. The film was already not very good, though this ending tips it into being a complete disaster that is one of the worst in recent memory.
Even as the film is about the horrors of a torturous conversion camp, it still makes sure it is clear that any type of radical response to this is off-limits. It is the cinematic equivalent of a patronizing finger wagging, insultingly implying that to defend yourself is somehow the same as the actions of those that are destroying you. The disgusting closing takeaway is that you must play nice if you want to be treated with respect and, if you don’t, order must then be restored by you being sent to jail. It is an insulting finale that is not just ignorant, but ends up replicating the very social structures it supposedly set out to skewer.
This all ends up being painfully boring and trite, playing out as a leering lecture about respectability as opposed to being a riveting end to what was billed as a horror movie. There is nothing even close to thrilling or subversive about it. The only thing that is scary is just how self-absorbed it all is. In interviews talking about the film, many of those involved seemed to have been setting out to say something more revolutionary about inclusivity and hate. There are perhaps some very faint glimpses of this early on, though these intentions are completely lost in the way it all wraps up. Even if it had been brilliant and incisive up until these final moments, it still would have fallen apart. It all ends up playing out like a pathetic punchline to an already poorly constructed joke, devoid of any teeth or anything to say besides a reaffirmation of the status quo. While expectations were not exactly high for the film, this ending was the nail in the coffin that ensured it would fall below even the lowest of bars.
Its ending only succeeds at doing a disservice to its characters and its audience as it manages to feel like it is talking down to both of them. The only silver lining is how there has been some actually incisive writing about the story’s many problems that one hopes it could take to heart. Unfortunately, the film’s ending shows just how off the mark this supposedly socially conscious work is. It points its most critical eye at those hurt by the structures and systems of hate. It ensures the final feeling we are left with is of inexplicable resentment toward those who are just trying to survive.
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