There is something so wickedly delicious about a slasher film. We sit on the edge of our seats with bated breath as Michael Myers stalks innocent babysitters through a suburban utopia of white picket fences and impeccably manicured lawns. We bite our nails down to the nub in anxious anticipation of Freddy Kreuger‘s next assault on someone’s unsuspecting dreams.
Horror fans have come to expect a certain formula by which these films follow in order to make a true “Slasher”. There is, of course, a masked killer with a go-to weapon, a rowdy group of teenage fodder to achieve an impressive body count, gore on gore on gore on gore, epic kills, and most importantly a strong final girl to carry the weight of the world on her shoulders. It is evident in his debut feature film They/Them that John Logan has a deep love for these tropes and themes, with a strong urge to present them through his own personal experiences specifically regarding sexuality, gender identity, and queer culture.
“There are a decent amount of kills throughout the film, but almost none of that patented slasher-style gore.”
John Logan has had an incredibly impressive career with multiple Academy Award, Tony, and Emmy nominations. He won the 2010 Tony Award for Best Play for his original production Red. Fans of the genre will recognize him for his work as the screenplay writer for Tim Burton’s Sweeny Todd, Ridley Scott’s Alien Covenant, and the creator of the television series Penny Dreadful. Logan is also a proud gay man that draws heavily from his real-world experiences in his writing and crafting of characters; None are more evident than those in They/Them (pronounced They Slash Them).
They/Them is a summer camp slasher that draws a lot of inspiration from its beloved predecessors like Friday the 13th, Sleepaway Camp, and The Burning– although you won’t find Jason Voorhees lurking in these woods. The film follows a group of teens that have been sent to Whistler Camp, an LGBTQIA+ conversion therapy camp, where they are meant to be taught how to be “respectable” members of society.
Our cast is a diverse group of campers who are all struggling in their own way with how to come to terms with their sexuality or gender identity. The cautious campers are quickly introduced to a very familiar camp slasher face in that of Kevin Bacon (Friday The 13th, 1980) who plays the camp owner Owen Whistler.
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Accompanying him are his very Stepfordy wife and camp therapist Coral (Carrie J. Preston, True Blood,) camp nurse Molly (Ana Chlumsky), athletics director and former camper Zane (Boone Platt), as well as Zane’s fiancé and activities coordinator Sara (Hayley Griffith). They all present themselves as kind and nurturing people who just want to help these “confused” kids find their way in life but as most horror films tend to play out, there is something much more malevolent at play.
Right off the bat, you are as uneasy as the campers. The camp staff are sickeningly sweet to their new students. Almost too sweet. They claim they are not like other camps that “hate gay folks,” and instead accept these kids the way they are. They just want the opportunity to help them work through trauma and be the best versions of themselves they can be. Respect, Renew, and Rejoice are the words the camp lives by and hopes to instill in the campers.
The campers are without a doubt the standout part of the film and we are gradually shown the group’s backstories, and the hardships these teens have endured. Jordan (Theo Germaine), the group’s stoic leader, is a nonbinary character who uses they/them pronouns and is played by an actor with the same background.
“Logan seemed so preoccupied with making sure the audience was invested in these characters that it appears he forgot to put the slash in They/Them.”
Casting actors that match the gender and sexuality of their characters gives a real air of authenticity to the story and how you relate to and sympathize with a character. There are incredibly soft and tender moments of acceptance and self-discovery in this film that are truly beautiful to watch, but unfortunately, get overshadowed by a slew of too many ideas that never fully come together to make a cohesive end result.
Logan seemed so preoccupied with making sure the audience was invested in these characters that it appears he forgot to put the slash in They/Them. There are a decent amount of kills throughout the film, but almost none of that patented slasher-style gore. And when these moments do come, the camera pans away to avoid showcasing the deaths. While I did grow fond of the ragtag group of campers and became immersed in their stories, I also grew tired of anticipating a kill only to have the build-up lead to a letdown every time.
The scariest part of this film is watching the mistreatment and belittling of kids in the LGBTQIA+ community simply because they are different. The killer was not vicious, the kills fell flat, and there was nothing new or exciting to sink my teeth into. This story would have been better served in the form of a dramatic miniseries rather than a slasher film.
Overall I enjoyed my time watching They/Them, but was ultimately let down by how tame it was. This script could have really benefited from some editing, the gore could have been ramped up a lot more, and the energy of the film as a whole could have been a lot more fast-paced. Despite all that, it’s still worth checking out if you’ve been looking for accurate representation in the media you consume. Oh, and did I mention there is a full musical number in there as well? Even more of a reason to watch!
“The scariest part of this film is watching the mistreatment and belittling of kids in the LGBTQIA+ community”
John Logan’s They/Them premieres on Peacock August 5. Let us know what you thought of this modern take on the classic slasher over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Heck, follow Nightmare on Film Street on TikTok for more horror movie recommendations while you’re at it.
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