This movie needs a ton of trigger warnings: homophobia, transphobia, sexual harassment, animal cruelty, and aversion therapy.
When I first heard about They/Them I was incredibly nervous for it to come out. While it’s not new to have nonbinary characters in horror films, we rarely get such explicit representation. I expected this film to either be a radical example of queer representation and catharsis or completely off the mark. I was especially wary because of the conversion camp setting. However, I felt like it was a mixed bag.
Let me start by saying that there are some genuinely upsetting moments, especially for those of us who can relate to the campers. There are many scenes where the characters share their motivations for being at the conversion camp, and while this helps us understand their motivations and watch their growth throughout the film, it can hit a little too close to home. There are also instances when transgender characters are outed and then misgendered. The movie obviously pulls heavily from Friday the 13th but lacks the pacing that made other slasher movies suspenseful. Furthermore, I would have liked to have felt more anxiety for the campers, to really emphasize how fucked up the conversion camp was. However, the actual violence we see against the campers is pretty upsetting. I would have rather the movie focus on the camp’s backward conception of gender roles rather than seeing outright violence against queer characters.
One thing I think They/Them got right was its characters. The campers are all likable and have their own plotlines, despite the movie having a bit of an ensemble cast. At some points, the characters do feel like caricatures of LGBTQ+ stereotypes, but this is done more for inside jokes to make those of us in the community laugh, rather than making a joke at our expense. Jordan, the main character, is very capable and confident. They are the nonbinary representation I was hoping for, even if they sometimes fall into the Gary/Mary Sue category.
Overall, I’m not sure if I can recommend this movie. Its final message is interesting, and preaches finding strength through community over violence. But for anyone in the LGBTQIA+ community, this movie might be difficult to watch. It’s nice to see representation, but the possibility of being triggered is very real in this movie. Although They/Them was quite funny at moments, it’s not very scary. I’d say this movie is enjoyable, but not worth the risk if you are sensitive to any of the triggers listed at the beginning.
They/Them is now streaming on Peacock.
Art and Pain: A Look into the World of ‘Allegoria’ (2022)
No, an artist doesn’t have to suffer, but we remember those who did and do struggle so much more than those who don’t. Take, for example, Vincent van Gogh, whose final words were “The sadness will last forever.” These words lead us into the anthology film Allegoria (2022), written, produced, and directed by Spider One, in which several artists fight against their fatal flaws and the forces of evil.
The movie shows segments of disparate artists’ lives. There are actors, musicians, a painter, a writer, and a sculptor. On the surface, their stories are connected only by the theme of pursuing their craft. As the film progresses, we see interlacing threads that weave them together, such as a painting, a conversation, a desire. The main connection is the presence of evil, of course, making this a horror film. The gore and unease amplify the horror, and while they are abundant, Allegoria doesn’t hinge on the obvious scares. Instead, it focuses on the ramifications of internal fear.
There are many common fears experienced by artists of all sorts, including imposter syndrome, not being able to support oneself, selling out, and not being understood. As any creator knows, these experiences can halt our work, can stifle our creativity, and can make us want to quit. But for most determined artists, the desire to create is greater than the fear of failure. The artists in Allegoria face these fears quite literally, as they manifest in physical form. How can, say, insecurity be represented physically? By an aggressively instigating, sufficiently creepy person in hellish makeup and costume, of course.
Spider One has successfully completed his first feature film (and directed nine shorts), but most of the creatives in Allegoria are not so lucky as to have a finished product. The writer/producer/director is not so confident in his work that he is never plagued by fear, according to an interview with Portalville Podcast, and we can therefore assume that some level of projection is present in Allegoria. Having a personal connection to one’s art shows in obvious ways: a passion project is often more enjoyable than one produced simply for a paycheck. The cast and crew have certainly experienced the anxieties they present on the screen, giving the film a feeling of authenticity.
Suffering is an essential part of the human experience, but is it essential to the artist’s experience? To an extent, yes, because work that resonates comes from lived experience, but it is not mandatory. Requiring anyone to suffer is cruel, and moreover, requiring suffering for a better experience in consuming art is selfish. So why are we so drawn to evocative art? It’s a complex question that doesn’t have a straight answer, especially considering everyone’s different experiences and preferences. Most can agree, however, that powerful art makes us feel. To paraphrase the sculptor Ivy in one scene, good art takes an object, turns it into a feeling, and turns that feeling into a visceral reaction. Allegoria’s success, much like all horror movies, depends on eliciting a visceral reaction. It deftly uses gore, dread, and dialogue to show that something is not right in these artists’ lives.
My favorite segment of the film centers on the painter Marcus. He’s an unlikeable protagonist, openly disparaging other art forms such as acting, and he is also pretentious, looking down on his agent for not knowing about Jacob Isaacszoon van Swanenburg’s painting “The Harrowing of Hell.” As he fights against the clock to finish a piece, Marcus deals with the annoyances of forced social interaction. A creator myself, I understand his short temper with interruptions, and I can’t say that I’ve never wanted to get totally immersed in my work and shut out the world. This segment of the film also includes my favorite shot, which I won’t spoil for you.
Allegoria is a great representation of the misfortune of creativity. Those who are cursed with it often suffer for their art. That suffering is not necessary, but I’d say it is felt by the majority of artists. Through physical manifestations of their anxieties, the depicted creators face evil forces. But is it truly evil, or is it simply an allegory?
Gruesome Murders in the Australian Outback: A Review of ‘Wolf Creek’ (2005)
Exploring the Australian outback is an exciting adventure for any young traveler. Friends Kristy (Kestie Morassi) and Liz (Cassandra Magrath) leave England for the trip of a lifetime, traipsing through the Australian wilderness. They meet up with Ben (Nathan Phillips), a witty and handsome young man who promises to take them to see Wolf Creek, the site of a meteorite crash in the middle of nowhere that attracts tourists.
That’s how the Australian film Wolf Creek (2005) begins. The viewers get to know the three characters quite well during the movie’s first half. Kristy is bubbly and hilarious, with a bright sense of humor and a fierce joy of life. Liz is more subdued and introspective, yet she is kind, caring, and adventurous. Ben is extremely silly, confident, and charming. He stands up for the women he travels with when creepy men at a gas station confront them. Ben and Liz even start falling for each other and seem excited about their potential relationship blooming once they reach Cairns, their final destination after Wolf Creek.
This well-established connection between the audience and the characters makes the extremely gruesome ending all the more disturbing. When the group reaches Wolf Creek, they enjoy their hike to the meteorite before heading back to the car. They’re frustrated to find the car is dead, and no one knows how to fix it. Luckily for them, a friendly man named Mick (John Jarratt) approaches soon after and tows their truck back to his campsite. But soon, the trio discovers that the stranger’s kindness was all a ruse.
Once the plot shifts into its horror themes, the pace picks up quick. At the same time, the audience is tempted with so many hopeful moments. Liz escapes her confines at first and is even able to shoot Mick after finding him torturing Kristy in another room. They both escape in his truck at first. But he follows them.
Throughout the rest of the film, hope is presented to the audience and snatched away within the blink of an eye. The utterly disturbing verbal threats and graphic violence Mick displays towards his victims are extremely memorable. I won’t give too much away, because you need to see it for yourself.
Another intriguing element of this movie is that it’s presumably based on actual events. The film makes it seem like Kristy, Liz, Ben, and Mick were all real people. But this is false. The creator of Wolf Creek, Greg McLean, actually based his film on the crimes of two different men: Ivan Milat and Bradly John Murdoch. These two men committed murders in the outback of Australia in the 1990s and early 2000s.
I’m not a huge fan of manipulating true tragic stories into gory movies made purely for our entertainment. However, I found myself deeply invested in the film. The storytelling is fantastic. It’s filled with suspense, intrigue, and compelling characters. The buildup to the horrors at the film’s end is incredibly well done. All in all, I give this movie a 3 out of 5. It gains points for excellent storytelling but loses points for sensationalizing real tragedy.